STOLEN VALOR ACT: Purple Heart claim challenged
VA employee also accused of taking $180,000 in benefits
By CARRI GEER THEVENOT and KEITH ROGERS
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL Perelman indictment
The Purple Heart medal is awarded to those who have been wounded or killed in military service.
An excerpt from the indictment of David M. Perelman describes some of the charges against him.
A Veterans Affairs employee from Las Vegas was indicted this week in a case of stolen valor and stolen benefits.
The case against David M. Perelman, who claimed to have received a Purple Heart medal, is the first known prosecution in Nevada under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which outlawed false claims of military honor. According to the indictment, Perelman claimed he had been wounded in combat in Vietnam, when in fact he had been wounded by a self-inflicted gunshot in 1991.
"The Purple Heart is a symbol of heroism, patriotism, honor, and symbolic of one's sacrifice and duty to our country," said Daniel Bogden, the U.S. attorney for Nevada. "Those who seek to diminish the sacrifice of others by wearing the Purple Heart when not authorized to do so will be vigorously prosecuted. Federal law calls for imprisonment for up to one year for wearing the Purple Heart when not authorized by law."
Perelman also is accused of stealing about $180,000 in monthly disability benefits from the Veterans Administration, now known as Veterans Affairs, from 1995 until July 2009. He is 56.
Attempts to reach Perelman for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. He faces two charges: theft of government property, a felony, and the unauthorized wearing of a military medal, a misdemeanor.
"I'm glad that finally Mr. Bogden is going to prosecute a stolen valor case," said retired Army Lt. Col. Bill Anton, president of Special Forces Association Chapter 51. "Veterans are happy that he is finally addressing this, and we support him totally."
Anton spent a year trying to persuade Bogden to pursue a stolen valor case against another veteran, Jacob Cruze.
In e-mails to the Review-Journal in 2006, Bogden confirmed that his criminal chief had reviewed the Cruze matter and determined it was appropriately handled by Las Vegas police, "who cited Cruze for unlawfully using specialized veteran vehicle license plates and confiscated all improper medals, uniforms and indicia."
Bogden also wrote, "Considering our limited resources and manning we did not feel that additional misdemeanor charges ... were necessary since the matter had already been addressed by local authorities."
But Anton, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, said federal charges are needed to deter phony war heroes.
According to the indictment against Perelman, he falsely represented to the Veterans Administration that he legitimately had been awarded a Purple Heart when he knew he had fraudulently obtained the award by representing that he had been wounded in combat in Vietnam.
Perelman also knew, according to the indictment, "that he had been wounded by a self-inflicted gunshot in 1991, long after he had been discharged from the military, and that he had not served in combat in Vietnam."
The document accuses Perelman of wearing the Purple Heart without authorization in August 2008.
John Bright, director of the Veterans Affairs Southern Nevada Healthcare System, said he was "stunned as anybody else" to learn of the allegations of Perelman's false claims after a Veterans Affairs inspector general's investigation.
"He's been a pretty decent employee," Bright said Thursday. "We haven't had any problems with him. Of course he's not going to work for us any more."
Bright said the VA hired Perelman as a clerk about three years ago after he had worked as a volunteer for the agency.
Perelman sought employment saying that he was a disabled veteran, and he was cleared for hiring following a background check.
"There was no way for us to have known," Bright said.
He said Perelman has submitted his resignation; his last day in the VA job will be next week.
As for the indictment's allegation that Perelman embezzled $180,000 in VA disability benefits, Bright said, "It's appalling. Apparently there are a lot of folks out there doing this type of stuff."
Records from the Military Order of the Purple Heart list Perelman as the organization's Nevada commander in late 2008.
He is the second former local official of the order to have questions surface about lying about military service.
Last year, Irving Joseph Schwartz, who had been a national service officer and past commander of the organization's Chapter 711 in Las Vegas, admitted to former Rep. Jon Porter's staff that he had fabricated his role in World War II after his claims for valor medals had stood without question for most of his life.
Porter had intended to name a post office after Schwartz until the Review-Journal raised questions about his military records.
Schwartz died in July.
John Bircher, national spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, noted that Perelman hasn't been found guilty yet.
If he is found guilty, his membership with the organization will be revoked, Bircher said.
"The Military Order of the Purple Heart feels strongly about the Stolen Valor Act, especially regarding those who falsely wear a Purple Heart," he said.
A Web site for the Air Force's 8th Aerial Port Squadron during the Vietnam War profiles Perelman's 1971 tour with photographs and a Purple Heart citation.
A summons has been issued for Perelman, who was indicted Wednesday. He is scheduled to make his initial court appearance on Nov. 13 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leavitt.
Anton said he has encountered Perelman several times over the past three years and knew him as a Purple Heart recipient who had served in the Air Force in Vietnam.
Perelman said he had been wounded by shrapnel during a rocket attack in Vietnam, said Anton, who was not surprised to hear about the criminal allegations.
"I didn't think the guy was real," Anton said.
He said most veterans have honor and integrity.
"That's something that's truly lacking in this country."
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.
There is so much to this I hardly know where to begin. Yes this scumbag belongs in jail, but the article also has many other tainted comments that need to be addressed. Honor and integrity that is not in the VA Regional Offices lexicon of words that apply to handling veterans disability compensation claims, they lay way behind the denials and misrepresentations of the non adversarial process that most veterans expect.
The Veterans Affairs Regional offices treat veterans and their widows with so much contempt that the nation would and should be appalled by it. They expect the government is actually caring for disabled veterans, when that is as about as far from the truth as it can get. Many veterans die fighting this agency for benefits they deserve and trying to get this nation to keep the "PROMISE" that is made when they were either drafted or enlisted, if you are hurt or killed the nation will care for you and your family financially or medically if it is deserved.
There are nearly one million cases backlogged awaiting adjudication for this nations veterans, why? The VA claims the average waiting period for benefits is 6 months, when in reality that is the waiting period for the first denial letter, then the veteran or widow has to appeal the denial to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) where the waiting period is an average of two years.
The VA had a years notice about the new educational benefits, yet when it came time in August 2009, they were not prepared for the claims for the college benefits and a few weeks ago they decided to pay the veterans going to school a lump sum payment of 3,000 dollars to help them pay their rent and books until they could get the regular checks started, most banks across the nation refused to accept the checks as valid and wanted to hold the checks for up to 2 weeks before allowing access to the funds, the VA had to set up a special phone line where the banks could call to verify the checks were valid to the veteran so the money could be available immediately.
Stolen Honor or Valor is the least of the VA's problems, yes it is wrong and the men and women pretending to have been awarded medals that enable the VA to cut thru normal verification methods such as getting the veterans 201 file or service record normally required to process a VA compensation claim, a simple fix would be for the DOD to set up a registery where these medals the Purple Heart, the Bronze star for Valor, the Silver Star etc similar to what they have for the Medal of Honor would stop the frauds from jumping the normal process veterans have to go thru to obtain benefits. In this day and age of digitalized records how hard could it be for DOD to create such a database?
They have more POWs drawing benefits for being POWs than actually were held during the Vietnam war and Desert Storm, how can this be, those lists are well known, how could the VA fall victim to scam artists for these benefits?
The VA has problems and it is not just fruadulent veterans, that is just the tip of this iceberg.
Monday, November 2, 2009
STOLEN VALOR ACT: Purple Heart claim challenged