Veteran sentenced after wrongfully receiving nearly $1 million for claimed blindness

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Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 7:02 PM EDT
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (FOX Carolina) - United States Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, Dena J. King, announced that a veteran was sentenced today for taking nearly 1$ million dollars in benefits based on fraudulent claims.

Officials said 58-year-old John Paul Cook was sentenced to ten months in prison, five of which he will spend in home confinement. They added that he was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay back $930,762.53 to the VA.

According to court records and today’s hearing, Cook joined the Army in November 1985 and served for six months until he was accidentally injured while on duty. Following this incident, Cook claimed that his preexisting eye condition got worse. Documents said Cook was discharged from the Army and placed on the retired list following a medical evaluation in 1987. He then began receiving a VA disability-based compensation at a rate of 60%. Over the next 30 years, Cook’s compensation increased as he claimed that his unemployability worsened due to a “severe visual deficit.”

Cook admitted in court that the VA declared him legally blind in 2005 and began giving him the maximum rate of disability-based compensation. Cook also began to receive additional benefits. These benefits included Special Monthly Compensation (an extra monetary allowance given to qualifying veterans due to the severity of a 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).

Court records showed Cook’s monthly disability payments were $1,411 per month in 1987 but steadily increased over time. By 2016, Cook’s monthly payment had risen to $3,990. In total, Cook got around $978,138 in VA disability payments from 1987 through 2017.

According to court documents, despite Cook’s complaints of increased visual issues, he repeatedly passed DMV vision tests to get driver’s licenses in North and South Carolina. Court documents also showed that Cook bought and registered over 30 vehicles during this time which he used to drive long-distance trips and run errands. From 2010 to 2016, Cook served as a Den Leader and Cubmaster for the Boy Scouts of America. While leading these groups, Cook passed tests that allowed him to be a range officer for BB guns and archery. He was also certified in land navigation which involved reading maps and compasses.

Cook pleaded guilty to theft of public money on July 19, 2021.