Veterans Disability Info Blog

Highlighting Veteran Disability Fraud: Be Aware and Take Steps to Protect Yourself

Staying informed about current instances affecting VA disability benefits can be challenging amid the distractions of daily life. However, these cases have the potential to impact veterans significantly. This article delves into relevant cases concerning veterans’ benefits and examines government actions to safeguard them. Our exploration reveals numerous instances of fraud and scams targeting funding intended for disabled veterans. 

If you have a VA-rated disability and suspect that a recent case or new legislation could impact your access to funding or provide opportunities to increase your VA-rated disabilities, an experienced VA disability benefits attorney at our firm may offer assistance.

VA Official Pleads Guilty to Bribery, Fraud, and Obstruction In October 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reported that a former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official pled guilty to charges of having demanded and received bribes from three for-profit schools in return for enrolling disabled military veterans in those schools. This scam resulted in the misappropriation of over $2 million in VA benefits’ payments. 

The 2018 theft occurred within the the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program (now known as the Vocational Readiness and Employment Program). The VR&Eprogram provides disabled U.S. veterans with employment and education-related services. Counselors from the VR&E program provide veterans under their supervision with advice and guidance about what schools to attend and what courses to take. Program counselors also help to facilitate tuition payments to those schools and any payments for other necessary supplies of their veteran students.  
The case involved Mr. James King of Maryland, who pled guilty to an alleged count of honest services and money/property wire fraud, one count of bribery, and one count of falsifying records with the purpose of obstructing an administrative investigation. Mr. King was the fourth individual to plead guilty within the context of this investigation. In April 2018, two parties pled.

 Honest services fraud is a crime defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1346 (the federal mail and wire fraud statute), added by the United States Congress in 1988, which states, “For the purposes of this chapter, the term scheme or artifice to defraud includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”

guilty to bribing and conspiring to bribe Mr. King, and in July 2018, a third party pled guilty to having bribed Mr. King. 

From 2015 to 2017, Mr. King facilitated over $2 million in payments to Atius Technology Institute, $83,000 to Eelon Training Academy, and over $340,000 to a school identified in the case as “School A.” Mr. King accepted bribes from officials at these schools in exchange for directing these funds their way. All parties involved sent false information to the VA concerning the education that was being provided to veterans. 

The VA and Justice Department are  Also Targeting VA Benefits Fraud on an Individual Level 

In addition to the broader scheme to misrepresentinformation provided to VA with the intent to procure improper VA benefits funding, Mr. King also manipulated veterans on an individual basis by advising they attend the schools he had deals with in order to substantiate the side obligations made with the schools involving recruitment. For example, Mr. King falsely instructed one disabled veteran, who was pursuing VR&E training to become a baker, that he should attend School A and pursue security training. This veteran was disabled and unable to perform security work, yet despite this, Mr. King instructed the veteran to enroll in training the veteran no ability to use so that Mr. King could earn his bribes. 

At the time, former Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Brian A. Benczkowski stated, “The Justice Department is committed to prosecuting those who seek to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of programs intended to help our brave service members.”  

Former U.S. Attorney Jessie Lui said at the time that Mr. King exploited his position with the VA by “participating in a scam that took money from programs meant to help our disabled military veterans find jobs and enhance their education,” demonstration that the Justice Department is committed to ensuring that taxpayer money meant to benefit disabled veterans is applied as intended.

Fee Waiver Scammer is Sentenced

In September 2023, after posing as an authorized contractor for the CA Department of Veterans Affairs (CADVA) and defrauding over 40 families with either a grandparent or other family member who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Don Azul (“Mr. Azul”) was sentenced in Los Angeles, California for a scheme he used to victimize the relatives of veterans, in addition to the University of California and California State University systems. 

Through the scam, Mr. Azul defrauded these families by having them pay at least $500 each for counterfeit CADVA college fee waivers. The waivers are, in fact, a benefit that is provided by California that waives tuition and some fees for eligible students, including the children of a military veteran with a VA disability rating of 100 percent. In his plea deal, Mr. Azul agreed to serve a term of imprisonment of three years and four months in state prison and was ordered by the court to pay over $450,000 in restitution. 

The case was investigated by the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG), alongside the police departments of a number of universities. Instances such as these demonstrate how fraud and scams increasingly impact veterans and their ability to receive their benefits. If you randomly receive communications from a party claiming to be affiliated with the VA, it is recommended that you contact the VA to confirm whether or not the company is legitimate. Avoiding scams takes some proactive effort, particularly given how sophisticatedscammers’ methods have become. 

Theft of VA Benefits Meant to Assist Disabled Veterans

In September of 2023, Ms. Melanie Marshall (“Ms. Marshall”) of Tampa, Florida was found guilty of theft of government funds after she stole from the VA’s Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program. Ms. Marshall was eligible to participate in the program meant to help veterans with service-related disabilities secure employment. However, rather than taking advantage of only those benefits to which she was entitled, Ms. Marshall took it a step further and lied to her vocational rehabilitation counselor to continue receiving benefits over the level that she had been approved for. 

Due to Ms. Marshall’s fraudulent actions, VA not only continued to pay for classes, but also provided monthly subsistence allowance payments that totalled $20,986.92. Ultimately, the positive result of this investigation was a joint effort between the Social Security Administration OIG and the VA OIG. Cases such as these illustrate the increasing focus that the VA is placing on benefits fraud and theft. When fraudulent parties take advantage of benefits earmarked for veterans, the system is compromised, and the VA takes action by responding to reported cases and initiating investigations. 

$170 Million Fraud Scheme Reported in Houston

As reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, in September 2023, a Houston-based physician and two pharmacists were indicted for a fraud scheme valued at $170 million. According to court documents, Houston pharmacist Shalondria Simpson was accused of paying a physician and others illegal kickbacks and bribes in exchange for prescriptions that were considered generally medically unnecessary. These kinds of fraudulent activities are also being increasingly targeted, resulting in VA investigations and being subjected to law enforcement measures. 

From2016 to 2022, these parties allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to submit false and fraudulent claims to the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Program. This Department administers workers’ compensation benefits on behalf of the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act. The pharmacist, Simpson, is accused of submitting fraudulent claims estimated to total around $170 million through the labor program. 

Those being investigated in relation to the alleged scheme have been indicted on a number of charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. Among the Federal agencies investigating the case are the US Postal Service OIG, the Department of Labor OIG, the FBI, and the VA OIG. 

Other Cases We’ve Highlighted

Impacted by VA Disability Fraud? 

If you suspect that a recent case ruling or new legislation has implications for your VA benefits, a wealth of information can be found on the VA’s website or through in-person visits to your local VA center. Keeping abreast of the numerous cases making headlines regarding veterans’ disability fraud can be challenging, but we’re here to assist you!

Discuss How You Can Take Advantage of Changes with a VA Benefits Lawyer 

If you believe that recent legislative changes impact your VA disability benefits or that a ruling pertains to a theft or scam you fell victim to, an attorney may provide valuable assistance. Our seasoned VA disability benefits lawyers can guide you through an appeal, potentially turning a denial into an approval, or help you add a new condition to your VA disability rating. Contact a veterans disability benefits lawyer today.

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If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.