Articles tagged with: featured

House of Prayer, Accused of Bilking Veterans Out of Millions, Said to Be Stonewalling Investigation

House of Prayer, Accused of Bilking Veterans Out of Millions, Said to Be Stonewalling Investigation

Federal prosecutors say a church accused of scamming veterans out of millions of dollars’ worth of benefits is stalling an investigation and should be held in contempt of court and fined.

House of Prayer, which has locations across Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and Washington state, has effectively ignored demands to produce documentation, prosecutors said in an April 4 court filing, as part of an investigation into what could be one of the largest scams targeting the military community ever.

A investigation found that the church allegedly used a complex scheme for nearly 20 years to bilk millions of dollars from veterans' military paychecks and disability pay, as well as use their GI Bill and Department of Veterans Affairs home loans to generate revenue for the church -- whose leadership lived lavish lifestyles.

The FBI raided House of Prayer locations -- all located near significant Army bases -- in June 2022. There were no arrests.

Two weeks ago, prosecutors filed a complaint in a Southern District of Georgia court, claiming the church has been stonewalling the investigation after being asked for documents on numerous occasions.

The church contends it can withhold documentation from the court on Fifth Amendment grounds, a defense federal prosecutors argue has absolutely no legal ground, court records show. An attorney representing the church did not return a request for comment ahead of publication.

Prosecutors are demanding the church provide a roster of its owners, employees and students and all money paid to the church from the VA.

Former church officials and members described to how its leadership pushed service members and veterans to give their pay and benefits. In some cases, the church pressured its members to cut off ties to their families and either move into the church or provide full-time labor without pay.

The GI Bill was at the center of the church's alleged revenue scam through a bogus bible college. The church's own director of that program told the school had no syllabus or process to graduate students in any certification.

Those classes were effectively loosely organized church meetings. Since 2013, the House of Prayer received $7 million in GI Bill payments, according to the VA. The school's eligibility to accept GI Bill money was not fully revoked until's investigation was published.

Advocates and lawmakers have long pointed to the GI Bill being easy prey for bogus schools to scam students and the government. That benefit has long been considered sacrosanct as both a top recruiting tool and largely seen on Capitol Hill as one of the federal government's most successful programs.

North Carolina Church Debt Jubilee Retires Millions in Medical Debt — Can Veterans Everywhere be Next?

North Carolina Church Debt Jubilee Retires Millions in Medical Debt — Can Veterans Everywhere be Next?

I find it amazing — and deeply gratifying — each and every time a person or organization becomes aware of, and then puts to work for their community the charity (RIP Medical Debt) I helped bring into existence.

The Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem NC is the latest to do just that — with wondrous impact. They first raised, in small donations of $25 or $50, $5,275.42. With RIP’s help, they then purchased $1,165,796.61 in two NC counties owed by 1,356 families and saw it forgiven.

“With the wind at our back and a strong feeling that God had blessed this venture of faith, we decided to go again!” Reverend John Jackman said. A second campaign raised $15,047.97 by January 31st of this year and in February forgiveness letters went out to 3,355 families in three more counties abolishing an additional $3,296,863.64!

They ceremoniously burnt the “bills” forgiven, not realizing the blaze that they had started. “You guys made the top page of Reddit!” “Debt Jubilee is trending on Twitter, it’s the top story on TikTok.” The next day their story appeared on several syndicated talk shows, later picked up by CNN, and journalists from big-name publications made inquiries.

Rev. Jackman announced the launch of a third campaign which “will go very quickly because of the many other churches that have stepped up” and invited the faith-based community in the North Carolina Triad area to join in future projects “which we hope will grow as we talk to local hospitals about releasing more of the debt they hold.”

Did you know that America’s Veterans are waiting for that same attention and similar miracles?

“We can all be Heroes” poster used at Rethinking Heroes to raise awareness of Veteran needs — art by Victor Guiza

In late 2020 I retired from full-time work with RIP to serve on its Board. By that time I had hit all but one goal I had envisioned at our start in January 2014, blowing past the paltry $1B in medical debt forgiveness mark I and fellow collections industry executive and co-founder Craig Antico had set.

That one goal (still) is to see that the VA changes its policy — just as hospitals are able to do — and make available unpaid and unpayable veteran medical debt for full and total forgiveness. No strings. No hoops. No stress. No claim submissions. Just gone!

To galvanize public support for this new mission, I and a dedicated core of teammates and partners launched a national “Veteran Mission Possible” (VMP) campaign to abolish such debt and reduce the horrendous rate of Veteran suicide — over twice that of the civilian population.

VMP is the creation of Let’s Rethink This (LRT), a Public Benefit “B” Corp. Employing the hard-earned mantra from RIP, “If they don’t know about you, they can’t do anything about you, we set about the task of getting known.

One of our major megaphones for “Impact Awareness,” in addition to Our Newspaper is a weekly national public radio broadcast called Rethinking Heroes which focuses on news of interest to veterans and their supporters. More importantly, to introduce to them the “Solution Providers” we locate and feature who have real-world remedies to the many illnesses that befall their community.

Déjà vu all over again

Just as with my experience in co-founding RIP, public awareness is hard to come by. VMP is not (yet) getting the attention that it needs and deserves. Not because Americans do not find Veteran issues important — they do — they just don’t (yet) understand the depths of severity.

This article, which I trust will circulate on social media and show up at someone’s website, will help relieve that problem. In turn — should the cause resonate, will help to get us funded.

As LRT/VMP is not a charity, we do not ask for tax-deductible donations. We can, however, legitimately request your financial support whether it be in sponsoring or partnering with us in this campaign or through smaller dollars contributions by individuals who find the cause more important than a tax deduction.

Here is our fundraising link for that purpose.

RIP Medical Debt to date has reached over $8.6 billion in medical debt abolishment, taking that burden from the backs of over 5.5 million Americans. This has taken over nine years of dedication by me, Craig, and a brilliant staff overseen by our Director, Allison Sesso.

It’s all about our Veterans this time. Together we can remove the $6B in Veteran medical debt currently held by the VA system and weighing on our warriors’ minds and backs.

It won’t take nine years this time — it can be done within months, if not weeks, with proper legislation and changes in policy.

Perhaps then, I might retire.

“I’ll Donate to That!” In Memorium, Larry Rivkin WWII Veteran and Friend

“I’ll Donate to That!” In Memorium, Larry Rivkin WWII Veteran and Friend

Larry devoted his own safety and future to salvage lives by flying extremely dangerous covert missions over occupied France during WWII. Decades later on this Memorial Day, that spirit is still there and making that caring difference.

Years back when I was first struggling in my fundraising role to get RIP Medical Debt off the ground, I was having lunch in NYC with a good friend and fellow veteran (me Navy, and Larry, Army Air Force) and mentioned my fledgling organization’s efforts to bring medical debt relief to Americans.

Larry put his knife and fork down, pushed back his chair, and declared for the restaurant to hear, “I’ll donate to that!” And he did, giving me heart and spurring me on. (My original Huffington Post article about this meeting is here.)

He was then at the age of 95, this Captain and WWII B-24 Bombardier/Navigator many times medaled (Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and five Bronze Stars). He became furious when he later learned that millions of dollars annually in unpayable medical debt were being run up by Veterans and owing through the VA and not available for forgiveness. 

Like most Americans, myself included, Larry was under the impression that our country takes care of its returning warriors. Especially, their medical needs whether service-connected or not. They are not. Not nearly. Not enough. 

It’s About Those “Hoops” Needing to be Jumped Through

For example, Veterans who run up medical bills in civilian hospital emergency rooms and use ambulance services not “pre-authorized” end up being responsible for those expenses. There are circumstances where the VA will help (their “Hardship Program”) relieve some or part of that debt, but with conditions that cause as much hardship and stress as the debt itself.

There are many “If’s” and “when’s” that need to be met to get “free” healthcare, such as having a recent change in income due to job loss or income reduction or extreme situations for which fewer and fewer applicants qualify. Starting with, a Veteran must be currently enrolled in the VA Medical, possibly its medical care hardship program, and receiving healthcare benefits.

What is the “real world” effect? Veterans, currently estimated at 16.5 million or 6.4% of our nation’s population, are eligible for VA services. Only nine million, less than 50% of that group, are actually enrolled. Almost three-quarters of our Veterans will never see more than limited help. If any. 

Is this truly the best way to say, “Thank you for your service?”

We’ve lost Larry – The Problem is Still Here – And I am More Focused

Larry’s first question for me, whenever we met socially, was “How are we doing?” and taking great joy in each and every dollar that RIP continued to abolish. Almost two years ago on August 16, 2021 we lost Larry at the age of 100+. By then, the fledgling charity he helped lift off the runway had already reached over $1B in medical debt relief.

Today, that total is $8.6B, and 5.4M Americans no longer suffer from at least a portion of their medical bills. Not nearly enough of those are identifiable as Veterans.

I retired to RIP’s Board in late 2020 to found Let’s Rethink This (LRT) in early 2021 to concentrate on catching the VA’s attention and cause (prod? annoy?) this behemoth into releasing the $6B – BILLION – in Veteran medical debt believed to be on their books for total and complete forgiveness. 

The mechanism I chose is a Public Benefit “B” Corp – LRT – so that Veteran problems other than medical debt could be addressed – most notably Veteran suicides which researchers say are now running at 44 per day. PER DAY! 

An amazing team of vets and Veteran advocates heard of my efforts and are now banded together to set in motion a national campaign called Veteran Mission Possible (VMP) to address these two major ills…and a few more needing America’s attention.

The need to fund this ambitious effort is clear and compelling. VMP/LRT has the goods. We have an early track record and even a first-ever Veteran Medical Debt Summit under our belt. We have an awesome “Impact Awareness” machine in our recent media entry Rethinking Heroes (RH). We are gaining traction and attracting strong allies. 

We just don’t have Larry here to help.

A fundraiser (razr) is now in effect. You are invited to visit and contribute.

Support Veteran Mission Possible Here

Those of you who would like to do that and more, visit and join VMP and surround yourself with like-minded people who are action-oriented when it comes to helping our vets. 

The fundraising goal is $75,000. As LRT is a “B” Corp and not a charity, contributions however large or small are not tax deductible. However, they can serve as a marketing or business write-off for charities or corporations who become our patrons or partners. Write for those details: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This is a wonderful opportunity to trade in that somewhat obligatory phrase, “Thank you for your service” into instead “Let me take a burden off your back.” 

Anything else need rethinking?

My Long Road to Seeing Veteran Medical Debt Owed Through the VA Forgiven

Five Years Later My Arrival is Getting Closer

My Long Road to Seeing Veteran Medical Debt Owed Through the VA Forgiven

In early January 2018 I wrote a Huffington Post piece about my previous November’s experience in marching in NYC’s famed Veteran’s Day Parade – and my discomfort with parade goers who shook my hand saying, “Thank you for your service.” They mean well and the sentiments are authentic, but a key element was missing – offering actual help. Please visit with some of my history and tell me if you agree.

Support Veteran Mission Possible

2018’s Replacement for “Thank You for Your Service” – Actually Helping Veterans by Relieving Them of Unpayable Medical Debt (as published in Huffington Post)

For the first time in 50+ years I found myself in a Navy uniform and marching in a Veterans Day Parade this past November’s in NYC alongside a retired Army Colonel and a Vietnam Sergeant veteran (not shown above). While wearing that uniform, I was hearing someone for the first time say, “Thank you for your service.” I appreciated this acknowledgement of the years I served so many decades ago as a Navy journalist, but received it with mixed emotions.

I’ll tell you why.

On July 25, 2014, my long-time partner and friend in the collections industry, Craig Antico, and I decided to establish ourselves as a 501(C)(3) non-profit called RIP Medical Debt. Our purpose, inspired by Occupy Wall Street’s Rolling Jubilee, was to provide a tax-deductible way for Americans to help us locate, buy and then forgive unpaid medical debt incurred by individuals and families.

Along the way, we began to notice that a surprising percentage of the people whose debt we were abolishing were active duty military and veterans. Like many Americans (even myself as a veteran), I believed that America takes care of the medical needs of the men and women who have served our country – many of whom have come back from several deployments with severe disabilities. Of course, we would take care of them in return.

When you factor in the qualifications and hoops that a military person has to jump through to receive medical care at the VA – or off-site healthcare at non-military hospitals and emergency transport – you can only shake your head in wonderment.

A current example – Veteran Alpha

RIP was recently notified of a 73-year-old Army veteran and his wife (let’s call him “Veteran Alpha”) who is in singular need of help in meeting his medical debt obligations.

The problem began on Veterans Day 2016, when Veteran Alpha required emergency heart-bypass surgery. The local hospital, where he had gone into cardiac arrest, advised the largest VA medical center in their area of his precarious condition only to be told that they would send an ambulance – from over 75 miles away – to pick him up and transport him back to that facility.

The hospital staff put Veteran Alpha on the phone, who then groggily told the VA person that he was being prepped for surgery. End of call.

Since that time, Veteran Alpha’s finances have been swamped with medical bills that the VA has declined to pay because he had “refused emergency transport.” The hospital surgery was $180,000, of which Medicare paid about 80%. The hospital pursued the balance, requiring Veteran Alpha to deplete their $7,000 savings account and taking out a $7,000 loan from the Navy Federal Credit Union on which they are making monthly payments.

Dependent on his 100% service related disability payments, the task of managing out-of-pocket costs and the medical loan are putting the couple in jeopardy of losing their home.

This is a better way to say, “thank you for your service”

RIP depends on donor funds to purchases debt portfolios in bulk and is not designed to target individuals in debt at this point (we’re working on that). However, with help from other military activists, non-profits and highly motivated Americans we are vigorously taking up causes as personal as this.

We can tell you from our own experience that Americans are incredibly giving – once they are made aware of a particular need that deserves their attention. Our own growth (graph below) is an example of that public outpouring of donations as our work attracted more and more attention.

RIP Medical Debt Forgiven 2015 - 2017

This year, 2018, it is our intention to abolish $50 million in veteran debt in a #NoVetMedDebt campaign.So, here’s to the allies with whom RIP is joining forces. Whether it be “Semper Fi,” Anchors Aweigh, “Up We Go” or simply “Take That Hill,” we know that we have an important mission and one that we will complete with honor.

RIP is no stranger to painful stories of people caught up in a system that seems uncaring and even heartless. And Veteran Alpha’s situation is shocking only in that it is so ordinary.

As a result or my own increasing awareness, what had started as my blogging occasionally about veterans issues (“I’ll Donate to That!’) and the unconscionable burden of medical debt we have placed on our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors in uniform (“There’s a Billion Dollar Burden of Medical Debt”) it is now our charity’s intention to partner with veterans organizations to collectively right these significant wrongs.

The most recent fruit of these efforts was a mini-summit to address the problem held in December at Fordham University.

This year, 2018, it is our intention to abolish $50 in veteran medical debt alone in a #NoVetMedDebt campaign. So, here’s to the allies with whom RIP is joining forces. Whether it be “Semper Fi,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Up We Go” or simply “Take That Hill,” we know that we have an important mission and one that we and our military charity and hospital partners will complete with honor.

It will be a long battle against this financial nemesis, but the outcome is clear: we will leave no man or woman behind.

Support Veteran Mission Possible

Cary Harrison – Our Let’s Rethink This “Impact Broadcaster” for March

Cary Harrison – Our Let’s Rethink This “Impact Broadcaster” for March

You can’t say enough about a man who can’t say enough…enough, that is, about social and economic insults and inequities that take from us our lives, our liberties, and the pursuit of happiness that our Founding Fathers promised us ever so long ago.

Cary Harrison has done this all on air over the years, meticulously and explosively, and with multiple awards to confirm that reputation.

This time around, it’s not the general population that is getting the benefit of his attention – it’s our veterans. This is why Our Newspaper is applauding Cary for his bravery in seeing to it that America’s heroes will have a very public presence in the world he dominates: media broadcast.

Rethinking Heroes” (RH) enjoys the Lost Angeles drive-time airwaves from 9-10 a.m. every Friday morning on famed public radio station KPFK 90.7 FM.

It’s not simply the 2nd largest DMA audience that’s listening in. Thanks to both AM and FM opt-in affiliates and through streaming radio and video, RH is national in scope and impact.

RH also broadcasts on a series of commercial stations thanks to a unique universal format that allows it to fit any “clock” on any kind of station – from talk to music.

What’s so special?

Aren’t veterans featured on the radio and through podcasts already?

Not in the aggressive fashion and for the special purpose championed by Cary and his team at Let’s Rethink This (LRT) – which is to draw awareness to its national campaign called Veteran Mission Possible (VMP).

And exactly what is VMP’s purpose? To uncover and further the adoption of heretofore unknown remedies which, together and separately, can go a long way towards ending the twin evils of veteran unpayable medical debt and their horrific rate of suicide which runs as high as 44 per day! Per day! (Not to mention homelessness, PTSD, and drug abuse.)

If you don’t know about a problem, you can’t do anything about the problem

To maximize America’s awareness of and response to the many obstacles facing our women and men who have served – only to be disserved, RH is:

  • the only one-hour dedicated weekly show on public radio which is predominately staffed and managed by veterans.
  • the first top-of-the-hour military news-styled newscast – likewise fully delivered by a stable of 700-plus members of Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ).
  • the only show actively seeking to interview veterans and their advocates to better understand their problems and feature their solutions. Largely by veterans, for veterans.
  • an engaging, compelling listen (and viewing: all shows video stream for additional carriers and streamers). 
  • unique in delivering interviews that are interesting to the general population as well because our “heroes” break stereotypes in the frank way in which they offer answers to very difficult questions.
  • a channel for benefactors. Within the ending show of each month, RH will forgive $1,000,000 in medical debt across the U.S. on behalf of America’s vets. Having served, and still serving.

Congratulations and thank you for bringing RH into existence, Cary Harrison. We are pleased to honor you as our March Impact Broadcaster.

Let's Rethink This is licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) 4.0 License


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