Federal jury finds Kentucky veteran guilty of defrauding the Veterans Health Administration
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Acting United States Attorney Carol Casto announced that a federal jury sitting in Huntington returned a guilty verdict yesterday in the trial of a Kentucky veteran for defrauding the Veterans Health Administration. Phillip M. Henderson, 50, of Olive Hill, Kentucky, was convicted following a five-day jury trial. The jury required only an hour of deliberations before finding Henderson guilty.
Henderson served in the United States Army from 1983 to 1986. After he was discharged, Henderson filed multiple claims for benefits with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 1995, Henderson received a diagnosis from the VA of Retinitis Pigmentosa, an inherited and degenerative eye disease which can lead to total blindness. After this diagnosis, Henderson continued to undergo VA eye examinations through 2013, during which time VA medical staff continued to conduct tests to determine the extent of his vision loss. The results of these tests relied significantly, if not completely, on Henderson’s cooperation and accurate reporting of his vision levels.
Witnesses for the United States, including four medical doctors, testified that Henderson falsely responded to the vision testing and significantly misrepresented his vision loss. Witnesses further testified that Henderson pretended he could barely read the letters on the eye charts and pretended that his peripheral vision was severely reduced. As part of his scheme to defraud the VA, Henderson did not reveal that he had a Kentucky driver’s license and that he could and did drive.
Henderson received the maximum disability and healthcare benefits he could get for his claimed disability and vision loss. VA benefits representatives testified that from 1996 to 2015, Henderson received approximately $697,000 in disability compensation. In addition to this monthly monetary compensation, Henderson also received an $11,000 grant to purchase an automobile in 2006, which was intended for another person to drive Henderson, and another $10,000 grant towards the installation of an in-ground swimming pool, which was intended for his exercise and to maintain his well-being as a blind veteran. Further, Henderson received the maximum healthcare benefits possible for him and his family based upon his claimed diagnosis and vision loss. During the same time period, Henderson received the highest priority in getting medical treatment from the VA, free medical and dental services, free prescriptions, reimbursement for travel from his home in Kentucky to the VA Medical Center in Huntington for medical appointments, free training for the blind in Connecticut and Alabama for extended periods of time, and free equipment designed to assist the blind, such as canes, computers, talking telephones, and night vision goggles. In sum, Henderson received over $75,000 in VA healthcare benefits to which he was not entitled.
Henderson faces up to 10 years in federal prison, a fine of up to twice the gain or loss that resulted from his conduct, and an order of restitution when he is sentenced on August 1, 2016.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General, Pittsburgh Resident Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Eumi Choi and Jennifer Rada Herrald handled the prosecution and tried the case before a federal jury. Chief United States District Judge Robert C. Chambers presided over the trial.
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