Call Kurtis looks into a national epidemic of opportunists preying on our nation's veterans over benefits they can collect for free.By Kurtis Ming

Sacramento (CBS13) – Call Kurtis is exposing a national epidemic of opportunists who are taking aim at the elderly.

Now 80-years-old, recovering from a stroke, Navy Veteran Richard DeLaney needs help with the basics; like preparing meals, getting dressed and moved from his bed to his wheelchair. That type of care is expensive. On a fixed income, his son Rick and daughter-in-law Melissa says it’s more than he’s bringing in.

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“Our heart’s breaking because what do we do when his money runs out,” Melissa said.

Richard served during the Korean War. Rick and Melissa learned he may qualify for Veteran’s benefits. They turned to financial planner Mark John Crews who they say promised he could get Richard more than $1600 a month. Crews wanted $1,750 up front to help, and another $1,750 after the benefits started coming.

“That’s pennies compared to what he’s telling us we can get,” Melissa recalled thinking.

But after Crews cashed their check, Rick DeLaney says they never heard from him again. CBS13 has learned, they didn’t have to pay Crews a penny. It’s free to apply for these little known Veterans benefits known as Aid and Attendance.

Placer County Veterans Service Officer Rick Buckman says it disgusts him that thousands of opportunists across the country are charging veterans as much as 10-thousand dollars just to fill out the paperwork.

“You’ve got to watch out because there’s a lot of bad guys out there.”

Buckman travels around warning groups of aging Veterans. He says thousands have already been taken, and he thinks hundreds are profiting off Veterans this way in the Sacramento region.

“And they’re simply crooks. I mean that’s all I can say. They’re crooks because they’re not helping them doing anything,” Buckman said.

Some of these people are attorneys or financial planners who convince these seniors to invest their money in ways, the attorney or financial planner collects a sizeable commission. In some cases, the investments leave the seniors with no way to access their own money.

Sondra Roberts of Merrill Gardens Retirement Community says her facility is frequently approached by people who want to get into her facility claiming they can help her residents fill out these forms. She says she turns them away, but some don’t quite know where to turn to get these benefits.

“We didn’t know what to do,” Melissa DeLaney recalled.

That’s why her family turned to Mark John Crews. On his web site he’s smiling, but CBS13 has uncovered a mug shot of his criminal past. Crews was charged in 2009 with elder abuse. He took a plea deal for grand theft. According to court documents obtained by CBS13, Crews violated probation in the fall of 2011 taking nearly $16,000 from seven additional seniors including Richard DeLaney. We visited Crews’ business address to learn it’s a mailbox inside a UPS store. While we were there, Crews showed up to check his mail.

KURTIS: I’m Kurtis Ming from Channel 13, how are you?

CREWS: Hi Kurtis, I wish I could visit with you but I have an appointment I have to get to.

KURTIS: We’re doing a story about the money you’ve taken from people without filing their paperwork.

CREWS: I have filed their paperwork.

KURTIS: I have two families who say you haven’t filed their paperwork. I’m trying to figure out why you’ve taken money but haven’t filed paperwork for them.

CREWS: I’ve gotta get to an appointment, appreciate your time.

KURTIS: It’s something they can do for free. Why do you take money from people for something they can do for free?

He climbed into his car and drove off without answering the question. The DeLaney’s say they think he’s a crook.

“It’s fundamentally wrong what he’s doing. How in anyone’s mind think that this is okay? It’s not. It’s not okay, Melissa DeLaney said.

Calling the practice despicable, State Senator Majority Leader Ellen Corbett passed a law last year making it illegal to charge California Veterans unreasonable fees to help them apply for Aid and Attendance. The law went into effect January 1, 2012.

“It’s just outrageous to me. They earned these benefits,” said the Democrat from San Leandro.

Richard DeLaney is now receiving the maximum amount of Aid and Attendance benefits you can get after his family applied on their own for free.

Paying for his care is no longer a worry. They are still concerned for other senior Veterans who may fall prey to those looking to make a buck.

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“We just need to put a stop to Mark John Crews and other people doing this to the elderly and our Veterans,” said Rick DeLaney.

Mark John Crews was sentenced to 4-months in jail for violating probation and to pay back his victims including Richard DeLaney. CBS13 sources say he’s paid most of the money back.

U.S Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon has been investigating the practice and is looking to tackle the problem on a national level.

“Our nation cannot allow schemers and fraudsters to rip off elderly veterans and profit from programs that are supposed to be supporting those who served our nation in wartime. I have been conducting an in-depth investigation into these schemes since last year, and I will be proposing legislation to close the loopholes that allow these rip off artists to operate,” Senator Wyden said in an emailed statement.

These benefits are for certain Veterans and their spouses. A veteran must have been discharged honorably, have served 90 days or more of active service with at least one day during a period of war. The Veterans must be permanently and totally disabled, and a limited income and net worth.

A Veteran can receive up to $1,703 a month or $2,019 for them and their spouse. A widow can receive $1,094 a month.

Click here for more on Aid and Attendance.

Every county in our viewing area, with the exception of Sierra County has a Veterans Service office. You can turn to them for help for free.

Budget cutbacks could mean delays getting help in your county. Placer County’s Rick Buckman says if you struggle in your own county, you can make an appointment with him.

Sacramento County Veterans Service Office
2007 19th Street
Sacramento, CA 95818
916-874-6811 / TTD/TTY 916-874-2599

San Joaquin Veterans Services
Officer Ron Green
105 South San Joaquin Street
First Floor
Stockton, CA 95202

Stanislaus County Veterans Services
121 Downey Avenue, Suite 102
Modesto, CA 95354
209-558-8698 or 800-510-2020

Yolo County Veterans Services Office
Officer Billy Wagster
120 West Main Street, Suite A
Woodland, CA 95695
530-406-4850 or 916-375-6200 ext. 4850

Solano County Veterans Services
675 Texas Street, Suite 4700
Fairfield, CA 94533

Nevada/Sierra County Veterans
Veterans Memorial Building
255 S. Auburn Street
Grass Valley, CA   95945

Placer County Veterans Services
Officer Rick Buckman
1000 Sunset Blvd., Suite 115
Rocklin, CA 95765

El Dorado Veteran Affairs
Placerville Office
130 Placerville Drive, Suite B
Placerville, CA 95667

South Lake Tahoe Office
1360 Johnson Blvd., #103A
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Butte County Veterans Service Office
196 Memorial Way, Suite 5
Chico, CA 95926

Amador County Veterans Services
American Legion Hall
Hwy 49 & Airport Road

Tuolumne County Veterans Service Office
Officer Eric Larson
105 Hospital Road
Sonora, CA 95370

Calaveras County Veterans Services Office
Officer Chele Beretz
509 East St. Charles Street
San Andreas, CA 95249

Contra Costa County Veterans Services
10 Douglas Drive, Suite 100
Martinez, CA 94553

Yuba-Sutter Counties Veteran Service Office
Officer Marvin King
5730 Packard Avenue, Suite 300
Marysville, CA 95901

Colusa County Veterans Services
Asst. Officer Carol S. Pearson
901 Parkhill Street
Colusa, CA 95932

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Other California Counties