Army Veteran Sentenced to Jail for Receiving Nearly $1 Million in Veteran’s Benefits for Fraudulent Service-Related Disabilities | USAO-WDNC
ASHEVILLE, North Carolina — Today, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. sentenced John Paul Cook, 58, of Marshall, North Carolina, to ten months in prison, five of which the defendant will serve at home, for defrauding the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Affairs (the VA) in receiving nearly $1 million in veteran’s benefits based on fraudulent service-related disability claims, Dena J. King, US Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced. Additionally, Cook was ordered to serve three years of probation and pay restitution of $930,762.53 to the VA.
Kim Lampkins, Special Agent in Charge of the Mid-Atlantic Field Office, Washington, DC, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), joins U.S. Attorney King in making the announcement of today.
According to court records and today’s sentencing hearing, Cook enlisted in the United States Army (Army) in November 1985. Six months later, Cook suffered an accidental injury while that he was on duty. Following the incident, Cook complained that as a result of the accident and the injuries he sustained, a pre-existing eye condition had worsened. According to court documents, in 1987, following a medical evaluation, Cook was discharged, placed on the pension list, and began receiving disability-based compensation from the VA at a rate of 60%. Over the next 30 years, Cook’s disability-based compensation increased, following Cook’s repeated misrepresentations of increased visual impairment and unemployability due to “severe visual impairment “. As Cook previously admitted in court, in 2005, based on his claims of severe visual impairment, the VA declared Cook legally blind and he began receiving disability-based compensation at the maximum rate. Cook also began receiving additional benefits, including a Special Monthly Allowance (an additional monetary allowance given to an eligible veteran due to the severity of their disability), Specially Adapted Housing (a grant that is used to pay for adaptations in a new house), and Special Adaptation of Housing (a grant that is used to renovate an existing house).
According to court records, Cook’s monthly disability payments in 1987 were $1,411 per month. With progressive increases in his disability rating, as well as cost-of-living adjustments and his special monthly allowance, these payments have increased steadily over the years. By 2016, the monthly payment had increased to $3,990. In total, from 1987 to 2017, Cook received approximately $978,138 in VA disability payments due to his alleged blindness, to which he was not legally entitled.
According to court documents, contrary to claims Cook filed with the VA seeking additional disability claims and his complaints of increased visual impairment, Cook repeatedly took DMV vision screening tests to renew or obtain a license. to drive in North and South Carolina. In addition, during the relevant period, court documents show that Cook purchased and registered over 30 different motor vehicles which Cook drove regularly, including on long trips and for errands. Court records further show that, from 2010 to 2016, during a period when Cook was receiving maximum disability benefits from the VA for his visual impairment, Cook was actively involved in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA ), notably as a Den Leader and a Cubmaster. Among the courses the accused took with the BSA were courses qualifying him to be a range officer for BB guns and for archery. It has also been certified for land navigation, which involves reading maps and using a compass.
On July 19, 2021, Cook pleaded guilty to theft of public funds. He will be ordered to report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons when designating a federal facility.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney King thanked the VA-OIG for its investigation of the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville prosecuted the case.