After 25 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a big change in the makeup and size of the US veterans’ population. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Gulf War veterans, which is defined as those who served from the start of Operation Deserts Shield in 1990 to today, are the biggest group of veterans in the country. They comprise nearly 50% of the veteran population and they now are 600,000 bigger than Vietnam veterans.
The makeup of the veteran population is changing and also includes a larger percentage of vets who are younger. This is also changing the type of fraud that affects veterans. The VA Office of Inspector General stated last year that from April to October, there were 80 arrests made by its Office of Investigations that recovered $3 million in fines, penalties and restitution that were related to VA health care benefits fraud and other types of fraud. That is twice as much as what was recovered 10 years ago.
One of the most serious cases in the last several years involved an Idaho National Guard man named Lt. Darryl Wright who admitted in 2016 that he scammed the federal and state governments out of $700,000 in benefits and a Purple Heart, by making up lies about injuries he claimed that he had in Iraq.
According to an agent in the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, he found in the case what he referred to as a case of two Darryls. Wright first made a claim in 2010. He told SS that he had severe disabilities. He noted that he could not get out of bed several days per week, and he had trouble walking. He had to use a cane, was unable to feed himself and he could not even tie his shoes. He also claimed he could not manage his belt or button his shirt and pants. However, undercover surveillance proved that Wright was doing yardwork outside his house in Snoqualmie WA and he was walking around without even using a cane. One security video showed that he was in a bar fight.
His lies went beyond just disability fraud. He also used his made up story to apply for a Purple Heart and an Army Combat Action badge. He also used the name of a fellow soldier to attempt to bolster his claim. That man told the media that he was furious when he heart. He said that his team did a good job in Iraq and it was very upsetting to have his name sullied and start creating documents with his name on them. Most of what Wright claimed about Aune and his unit were untrue.
Today, Aune is working full time as a counselor and advocate in Fargo, North Dakota. He is part of a small and growing network of veteran groups and veterans who are attempting to fill in the gaps that the VA cannot handle.
One of those groups is the group Green Beret Foundation. It said recently that it has given support for more than 2500 vets of the Army Special Forces since that organization was founded 10 years ago. More and more, the foundation is getting complaints about stolen valor cases that are similar to Wright’s. What the group is trying to do the most is to educate the public. The group says the stolen valor acts that some former soldiers try to commit are very offensive. Some of the perpetrators are not former military, as well.
Veterans’ groups say stolen valor is not just morally wrong. It also can take benefits from people who really deserve them. They say the VA and its money is a limited asset. So the programs that are intended for real veterans may not always make it to them because of these fraudsters.
Wright may have been able to continue the fraud longer if it were not for a supervisor at the federal agency when he is employed. After she reported her suspicions about Wright, the boss found herself getting flack for allegedly violating Wright’s privacy as a disabled veteran. She was eventually cleared, but she had a lot of legal bills and stress.
Even so, these groups urge employers to report any fraud they suspect to federal authorities. One of the offices to report such claims to is the VA Office of Inspector General, which has a hot line at 800 488 8244.
Also, the groups say people should learn about military culture, because this can help them to spot potential fraud, and it also helps to understand why most veterans are a special breed of person.
Wright obviously is an exception to this rule. He was sentenced to three years in prison and had his medals taken from him. He also was ordered to pay $600,000 in restitution.