A former soldier who defrauded Veterans Affairs out of nearly $1 million by claiming to have a service-related disability has been sentenced by the court to less than a year in prison, according to the Justice Department.
John Paul Cook, 58, of Marshall, North Carolina, received about $978,138 in VA disability benefits between 1987 and 2017 due to his false blindness, the DoJ said.
Although he claims to be visually impaired, Cook repeatedly took vision tests for his driver’s license, purchased and registered more than 30 vehicles that he drove regularly, and participated as a leader with the Boy Scouts of America to activities requiring sight, the DoJ added.
Federal District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. sentenced Cook to 10 months in prison, five of which will be served at home, according to the DoJ. Additionally, Cook was ordered to serve three years of probation and repay more than $930,000 to the VA.
Court documents show Cook enlisted in the army in November 1985. The following year, after sustaining an injury, he argued that a pre-existing eye condition had worsened.
After a medical evaluation in 1987, Cook was released and began receiving VA disability benefits, the DoJ said. His compensation increased over the next 30 years and in 2005, when the VA wrongfully declared Cook legally blind, his compensation reached the maximum rate.
He also received additional monetary benefits to renovate his home, the DoJ said.
“According to court records, Cook’s monthly disability payments in 1987 were $1,411 per month,” the DoJ said in the statement. “With progressive increases in his disability rating, along with cost-of-living adjustments and his special monthly allowance, those payments have increased steadily over the years. By 2016, the monthly payment had increased to $3,990.
Cook was indicted in December 2020 and pleaded guilty to theft of public funds on July 19, 2021, court records show.
Court documents submitted by Cook’s attorney note that the Army veteran and father of two “is deeply ashamed of his actions in this case…He knows it was wrong.”
Cook’s defense also noted that he had been making reimbursements to the VA since 2017, when the department began “recouping his visual impairment payments from his legitimate back disability payment.”
Cook’s attorney at the Federal Public Defender’s Office was not immediately available for comment.
On July 13 in Congress, lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee discussed how to combat financial scams and fraud that disproportionately affect current and former troops, but scams involving government agencies like VA are also common.
A church in Georgia, for example, was raided by the FBI last month for allegedly defrauding the VA out of millions, as reported by Military.com.
In July alone, the DoJ pursued a case against a Fort Stewart, Georgia soldier who conspired to target COVID-19 relief programs and a Rhode Island woman who falsified her military service to steal contributions. charities.