Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Army veteran pleads gulity to $1 million benefits fraud

A U.S. Army veteran who faked severe vision impairment in order to rake in almost a million dollars worth of disability benefits over 30 years pleaded guilty Monday to defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Acting U.S. Attorney William T. Stetzer announced.

John Paul Cook, 57, of Buncombe County, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Carleton Metcalf to enter the guilty plea to fraudulently claiming the service-connected disabilities.
According to a criminal indictment, filed plea documents and admissions made in court, Cook enlisted in the Army in November 1985 and six months later sustained an accidental injury while on duty. Following the incident, Cook complained that injuries he sustained worsened a preexisting eye condition. 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 percent.

Over the next 30 years, Cook’s disability-based compensation increased as Cook continued to falsely claim that he had visual impairment and an inability to work due to “severe visual deficit.” As Cook 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 in addition to a 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 rose from $1,411 a month in 1987 to $3,990 by 2016. 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, investigators said.

According to admissions he made in the plea, Cook repeatedly passed vision screening tests to renew or obtain a driver’s license in North Carolina and South Carolina and purchased and registered over 30 different motor vehicles which he routinely drove, including on long-distance trips and to perform errands. Court records showed that from 2010 to 2016, during which he received maximum VA disability benefits, for his claimed visual impairment, Cook was actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America, including he served as a Den Leader and a Cubmaster. Among the courses he completed with the BSA were those 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.
The charge of stealing from the VA carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date for Cook has not been set. Kim Lampkins, Special Agent in Charge of the Mid-Atlantic Field Office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, joined Stetzer in making the announcement.