Army Veteran Is Sentenced To Prison For Receiving Nearly $1 Million In Veteran Benefits For Fraudulent Service-Connected Disabilities
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Today, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. sentenced John Paul Cook, 58, of Marshall, N.C. to ten months in prison, five of which the defendant will serve in home confinement, for defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) by receiving nearly $1 million in veteran benefits based on fraudulent claims of service-connected disabilities, announced Dena J. King, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. In addition, Cook was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay restitution of $930,762.53 to the VA.
Kim Lampkins, Special Agent in Charge of the Mid-Atlantic Field Office, Washington, D.C., of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), joins U.S. Attorney King in making today’s announcement.
According to court records and today’s sentencing hearing, Cook enlisted in the United States Army (the Army) in November 1985. Six months later Cook sustained an accidental injury while on duty. Following the incident, Cook complained that as a result of the accident and injuries he sustained, a preexisting eye condition had worsened. According to court documents, in 1987, following a medical evaluation, Cook was discharged, placed on the retired list, and began receiving VA disability-based compensation at a rate of 60%. Over the next 30 years, Cook’s disability-based compensation increased, following Cook’s repeated false claims of increased visual impairment and unemployability due to “severe visual deficit.” 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 to receive additional benefits, including Special Monthly Compensation (an extra monetary allowance paid to a qualifying veteran due to the severity of his disability), Specially Adapted Housing (a grant that goes toward paying for adaptations in a new home), and Special Housing Adaptation (a grant that goes toward remodeling an existing home).
According to court records, Cook’s monthly VA disability payments in 1987 were $1,411 per month. With the incremental increases in his disability rating, as well as cost-of-living adjustments and his Special Monthly Compensation, these payments steadily increased over the years. By 2016, the monthly payment had risen to $3,990. In total, from 1987 through 2017, Cook received approximately $978,138 in VA disability payments due to his claimed blindness, to which he was not lawfully entitled.
According to court documents, contrary to Cook’s filed claims with the VA seeking additional disability claims and his complaints of increased visual impairment, Cook repeatedly passed DMV vision screening tests to renew or obtain a driver’s license in North and South Carolina. Furthermore, during the relevant time period, court documents show that Cook purchased and registered over 30 different motor vehicles which Cook routinely drove, including on long-distance trips and to perform errands. Court records further show that, from 2010 to 2016, during a time period that Cook was receiving maximum VA disability benefits for his visual impairment, Cook was actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), including serving as a Den Leader and a Cubmaster. Among the courses the defendant completed with the BSA were courses qualifying him to be a range officer for BB guns and for archery. He was also certified for land navigation, which involves reading maps and using a compass.
On July 19, 2021, Cook pleaded guilty to theft of public money. He will be ordered to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.
In making today’s announcement U.S. Attorney King thanked the VA-OIG for their investigation of the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville prosecuted the case.