WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — They fought for our country and defended our freedom.

Now, thousands of elderly veterans are being scammed.

And, we're talking big bucks here.

The VA paid $3.2 billion in total pension benefits to more than 230,000 recipients of aid and attendance in fiscal year 2018. More than half of them, 53%, were 84 to 95 years old.

They are elderly veterans with limited means or, have disabilities.

They need help to pay for the assistance they require in everyday functioning like eating, bathing, dressing and medication management.

They can apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs for financial help, paid in addition to monthly pension, in the form of the "Aid and Attendance" benefit.

Unfortunately,  a new Government Accountability Office report finds such veterans are among the most vulnerable to financial exploitation.

Scams that target them include high-interest loans, being overcharged for home care, charged for services they did not receive, selling bad investment advice and charges for services that should be free.

"Those who are subjected to scams may not know they are being exploited," said Elizabeth H. Curda, Director in the GAO’s Education, Workforce and Income Security team, in a podcast published on the agency's website.

Curda continued: "And even if they know they've been scammed, it may not have occurred to them to report it, or, they may be embarrassed."

The GAO report says that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not centrally collect and analyze information, such as complaints made against companies, that could show the prevalence of these scams, help the VA target outreach to veterans, and help law enforcement go after scammers. 

It made four recommendations to the  VA, including that it collect better information on potential financial exploitation, post warnings on applications and examine if it should take more steps to verify veterans' direct deposit information.