ASHEVILLE, NC – A man from North Carolina who claimed to be blind from military service – but also had his driver’s license renewed on several occasions and served as an archery and shooting instructor Bow for Boy Scout Troop – Cheated the Veterans Affairs system nearly $ 1 million in disability benefits, federal prosecutors say.
John Paul Cook, 57, of Buncombe County, pleaded guilty on July 19 in federal court to defrauding the US Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a press release. From 1987 to 2017, Cook received $ 978,138 in disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs “because of his alleged blindness, to which he was not legally entitled,” the statement said.
Cook enlisted in the United States Army in 1985, and court documents showed that six months later he suffered an accidental injury while on duty.
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“After the incident, Cook complained that as a result of the accident and the injuries he sustained, a pre-existing eye condition had worsened,” the press release said. “In 1987, following a medical assessment, Cook was released, placed on the retiree list, and began receiving VA disability compensation at a rate of 60%.”
But over the next 30 years, Cook’s disability compensation increased, “following Cook’s repeated false allegations of increased visual impairment and unemployment due to” visual impairment. serious, “” the press release read.
Ultimately, in 2005, the VA declared Cook legally blind, and he began receiving maximum disability compensation, which Cook admitted in court this week. He also began to receive additional benefits.
But contrary to Cook’s claims of worsening vision, Cook “has repeatedly taken vision tests to renew or obtain a driver’s license in North and South Carolina,” the press release said. .
“In addition, during the relevant period, court documents show that Cook purchased and registered more than 30 different motor vehicles that Cook drove regularly, including on long-distance trips and for shopping,” the statement said. .
Court records show that from 2010 to 2016 – when Cook was receiving maximum VA benefits – he was actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America, as a den leader and cub master.
“Among the courses that the accused took with the BSA, there were courses qualifying him to be a range officer for BB rifles and for archery,” the press release said. “He was also certified for land navigation, which involves reading maps and using a compass.”
Theft from the VA carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000, according to the press release. A sentencing date has not been set.
For fiscal 2020, the VA’s office of the inspector general discovered that the VA had reported $ 100.5 million in confirmed fraud.