Phony veterans try to cash in
on VA benefits
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Sep 24, 2007 11:16:48 EDT
Written in the former sailor’s cursive handwriting on his
claim for mental health benefits from the Department of Veterans
Affairs is an elaborate story about how Larry Porter supposedly
was tossed into 18 feet of water at boot camp when it was known he
“I was … told to swim or die,”
wrote Porter, of Seattle. “When they pulled me out, I thought I
He went on to tell of how he watched a
civilian worker die after falling from the side of a ship in a
Based on these claims, Porter, who
served in the Navy for 15 months in the 1970s, obtained $134,000
in VA disability benefits and $40,000 from the Social Security
Administration from 1999 to 2006.
It all turned out to be false. Porter
is in a jail cell serving a three-year sentence, and was forced to
repay all money he accepted from VA and Social Security.
Justice Department officials in
Washington state detailed Porter’s story, along with seven other
people accused of — or already convicted of — being military
frauds, during a news conference Friday on VA fakers.
“We take it seriously because this
money is meant for veterans, not for fakers,” James O’Neill,
assistant inspector general for the VA’s office of
investigations, told Military Times.
“Every dollar that’s lost to a
faker is one more dollar that can’t be spent on a veteran,”
said O’Neill, whose office is responsible for rooting out those
who defraud VA.
The news conference was held the same
day that Jesse MacBeth, a former soldier who served in the Army
only 44 days and didn’t finish basic training at Fort Benning,
Ga., pleaded guilty to making false statements about his service
and was expected to be sentenced.
MacBeth filed discharge documents with
VA stating that he served three years and separated as a corporal
after deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, said Ronald Friedman,
assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington
state. He also claimed to have earned a Purple Heart and a Ranger
tab, VA officials said.
MacBeth’s VA claim was denied, but
his storytelling didn’t stop there. He produced anti-war videos
claiming he killed innocent Iraqis after being ordered to do so,
Friedman said. The videos were translated into Arabic for Middle
East audiences, Friedman said.
An alleged phony from the list, Merrick
Hersey, is a fugitive after a warrant for his arrest was issued in
Washington, Friedman said. Hersey is accused of filing a false
military discharge document stating that he served in the Marine
Corps in 1967 and 1968 to obtain VA benefits, according to VA
He claimed to have earned two Purple
Hearts and a Bronze Star as a rifleman based at Camp Pendleton,
Calif., before receiving an honorable discharge, according to the
DD-214, a military discharge document, that he submitted.
There are no official records to show
that Hersey ever served in the military, Friedman said.
The case against a former political
official who claimed to be a prisoner of war was also spotlighted
Former Army Spc. Michael Heit, a former
chairman of the Constitution Party of Montana who ran for a seat
in the state legislature, pleaded guilty to two counts of filing
false DD-214s to VA and the Military Order of the Purple Heart in
The forged discharge documents claimed
Heit was a decorated Vietnam veteran who earned a Bronze Star with
combat “V” and three Purple Hearts. He also claimed he was
held prisoner by North Vietnam from 1969 to 1972.
One poser outed Friday never served a
day in the military and isn’t even a U.S. citizen, said Dennis
Shen, deputy district attorney for Multnomah County in Oregon.
Carlos Valle Rios, a resident alien
from Peru, pleaded guilty in January to “attempted aggravated
theft in the first degree by deception” for submitting a false
claim to VA and discharge documents, according to court papers.
Valle Rios claimed he earned a Purple
Heart from his time as a World War II pilot. He wrote in his claim
that he was a member of the famed Flying Tigers who secretly flew
in China against Japanese forces before the U.S. officially
entered World War II.
Valle Rios, a registered sex offender,
also was convicted of illegally obtaining subsidized housing in
Oregon. His sentence for defrauding VA was two years’ probation,
Shen said, adding that he is in the custody of Immigration Customs
Enforcement and is being considered for deportation.