Thursday, January 7, 2010

Va. veteran guilty of false claims

Va. veteran guilty of false claims

A veterans group alerted authorities to a Norfolk man's false claims about his military honors.

By Mike Gangloff | The Roanoke Times

Even as he pleaded guilty to inflating his military record, Thomas James Barnhart insisted he'd received a Purple Heart.

"I was given a Purple Heart with no paperwork in Vietnam, so it was as if I had made up the award myself," Barnhart, 58, said Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jake Jacobsen said Barnhart, who lives in the Norfolk area, didn't stop with one Purple Heart. In paperwork filed when he transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard, then in applications for disability benefits, Barnhart claimed an increasing array of honors. Ultimately he said he'd been a Navy SEAL, earned five Purple Hearts -- each supposedly marking a combat wound -- Bronze and Silver stars for valor, and more.

Barnhart's case echoed that of Randall Moneymaker, who in March 2008 was convicted of federal fraud and theft charges linked to false claims of combat missions and wounds that gained him a job as an Army recruiter and veterans disability benefits.

Jacobsen, who had prosecuted Moneymaker, said Barnhart also improperly sought benefits. In 1991 and 2005, Barnhart told Veterans Affairs interviewers tales of combat missions and a pilot dying in his arms. He said he'd been nominated for the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor.

All of that was bogus, Jacobsen said.

The prosecutor agreed that Barnhart was in the Navy from 1969 to 1979 and the Coast Guard until 1990.

But investigation showed only that Barnhart earned a medal for offshore duty during the Vietnam War. There was no record of combat or combat awards.

Barnhart pleaded guilty to violating federal Stolen Valor legislation by falsely claiming to have been awarded medals. He also pleaded guilty to a felony embezzlement charge tied to $13,923 in disability payments for supposed post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a short statement, Barnhart said he'd given the wrong reasons for why he suffered from PTSD, but seemed to defend the diagnosis itself.

Judge James Turk accepted Barnhart's guilty pleas and noted that his plea agreement said he would repay the disability payments along with whatever fines and prison term might be imposed. He scheduled sentencing for April 8.

After the hearing, Jacobsen, who served with the U.S. Army Reserve in Iraq, said military veterans, like fishermen, are prone to exaggeration. But falsifying service records for financial gain is "just galling," Jacobsen said.

So is claiming false honors during wartime, he added.

"You've got the real sailors, soldiers and airmen out there putting their lives on the line every day," Jacobsen said.

He said authorities were alerted to Barnhart's false claims by the veterans group AMVETS. Mary and Chuck Schantag, who run the group's Web site, could not be contacted Wednesday.

Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran from Colorado who was a leading advocate for the 2005 Stolen Valor legislation, said Barnhart's case shows the need for Congress to push the military to keep better records of medals such as Purple Hearts.

"There are literally tens of thousands of people who were given awards that never made it to paperwork," Sterner said.

The sad part of this entire affair is the man had an honorable military career, he then chose to dishonor it by making false claims of medals awarded that never were, of performing duties he never performed. The Navy has a problem with sailors claiming to be the ultimate Navy combat person a "Seal" the Army has the problem with soldiers claiming to be "rangers" or "special forces/green berets" soldiers that spent 20 years or more of honorable service make up "whoppers" about "rambo style adventures" and spicing up their career, but then they turn it criminal by putting these lies to paper and asking for veterans compensation for PTSD using these made up adventures, claiming lost paperwork, fallen friends (found from known names of fallen soldiers on stories posted on the internet or found in magazines) hoping or knowing that the VA will not dig deep enough into the sham story and approve compensation payments.

This is fraud and it should aand is being prosecuted as such. I find it distasteful to even have to address these issues, the words "Duty, Honor and Country" are not just words most military personnel live their lives by these words, so to find scam artists abusing our lifestyle by these type of actions, it burns to the core.

Many veterans claim that these veterans are stealing from other veterans and the money they gain by making these flase claims is depriving a veterans from getting their benefits, which is also a complete lie. I don't know which lie is worse, if a veteran makes a claim to the veterans Administration and the claim is deemed to be service connected and a percentage is set of how disabled the veteran is and the award is made. No veteran is deprived of benefits because of these "frauds" much like the Social Security Disability if an award is made the checks are mailed, if the VA funds run low then the VA secretary will go to Congress and say I need this much money to pay compensation forthie rest of this year and this is how much we are going to need next year to pay compensation benefits, the benefits have nothing to do with the VA health care side of the VA, no programs have money taken away from them to pay comp claims, veterans are not stealing from other veterans, they ARE committing fraud against all US taxpayers.

Bottom line though as galling as these stories are frauds in the VA system is still the smallest of all government programs that offer compensation, there is less than 2% fraud in the VA system overall, medicare, food stamps, unemployment programs etc all have higher fraud rates than does the VA system. Fraud is dispicable regardless of whom does it, but there is just something a little more disgusting about military veterans doing it, especially retirees who spent a career defending this nation, that they dishonor it by these wild claims of heroics. The do great damage to those who do live by "Duty, Honor and Country".

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Changing Attitudes, misperceptions?

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I for one am thankful to CBS for doing these interviews, but like many attempts before them, like Bob Woodruffs attempt with Secretary James Nicholson who was one of the Secretary of the VA during President Bush's Administration, who claimed all of the new veterans were flocking to the VA medical centers for dental appointments, these interviews are just more cluelessness and attempts by chair sitters, to just get thru the interviews without addressing the sore of the problem.

A process that denies veterans and their families the benefits they deserve and have earned due to a medical condition caused by their military service. The process now entails a veteran making a compensation claim and the VA Regional Office denies it within 6 months to a year and then the veteran files an appeal to the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) which can then take up to four years to get the hearing and an judgement from the Judge, which then sends the claims file back to the Regional Office for the percentage to be determined and the award letter sent out with the back payment which this can take between four to six months after the Judge makes his decision.

Then if the veteran feels the award percentage is to low, they then have to file another notice of disagreement within one year and the appeal then goes back to the BVA which entails another 2-4 year wait and another hearing and the Judge will either remand it and tell the regional Office to get more information or another C&P exam from a doctor to tell the Judge exactly what the condition of the veteran now, and another few years will pass and soon the veteran has a decade involved in an attempt to get the proper award they feel they deserve.

Are all of the claims proper, no some claims are outrageous and the veteran sometimes expects percentages that are not justified, or some will ask for back pay to the 1960s or 1970s to the date of the incident that caused their PTSD, which is not justified. But no one has ever told the veteran that this can NOT happen and they can NOT be paid prior to the date when they filed a disability claim.

There are many veterans that once they retire from their civilian jobs and hear from their friends that they are getting 3,000 a month from the VA because they told the VA they have PTSD from Vietnam, some see a way to increase their retirement lifestyle by making claims for PTSD now and are filling the VA with claims of this type as they see a easy way to get some tac free money, the problem with these type of claims is that the veteran does NOT have PTSD and the VA will catch them as they go thru the claims process, it is not just file a claim and get a check.

The process to determine if a veteran does have PTSD can take months of evaluations, testing and interviews before a diagnosis is even made, then they have to be able to provide a stressor, in other words the date, location and the names of the people present when the life threatening incident took place and then the VA claims office will research it thru the military records to verify the incident did take place.

Not all veterans will be rated at 100% disabled either nor will they be entitled to the 100% disabled compensation rate, which is about 2900 a month right now.

The CBS episode states there are approximately 3 million veterans are getting compensation checks now out of the 25 million veterans that are still living. Not all veterans are getting checks for being disabled by military service, nor do they all use the VA hospital system for health care, the last numbers I have seen show about 5.5 million veterans enrolled in VA health care.

I was not impressed by Amanda Carpenters article in the Washington Times about Veterans Health care either Veterans' benefits entangled in red tape

Leading Democrats like to hold up the Veterans Benefits Administration as an example of how well government can provide health care. But veterans who deal with the complex federal bureaucracy have invented an unhappy refrain to describe the VBA: "Deny, deny until you die."

With this one paragraph she has poisoned the well so to speak, the VBA is not veterans "health care" that is handled by the VHA or the Veterans HealthCare Administration, the VBA is the claims side of the VA. The VA is actually 2 different entities one side presents all of the health care, doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals and that is the VHA, she never addresses that issue in her article at all, she only talks about the claims side, and I have never heard any democrat or anyone else for that matter make any claims about the great job that the VBA is doing, because they don't doa good job, they do a miserable job of administering benefits to this nations veterans. They should be ashamed of them selves, paying and taking bonuses, while veterans and their families wait, wait and wait for the "PROMISE" to be kept.

This was the letter I wrote to Amanda Carpenter, in response to her article

Do facts matter? The VA is made up of two entities, the VHA is the Veterans Health Care, that includes hospitals, clinics and the doctors and nurses, and then there is the VBA which is veterans benefits administration which you have twisted together in your story rather than seperate.

Tonight CBS will be talking about the VBA which is benefits and the million claims backlog which has nothing to do with health care. The fact that the term deny deny, delay, delay until they die comes from the benefits side of VA or the VBA and not the VHA or the actual health care of the VA which as a 100% disabled veteran I have been getting care from them since 1997 when they did a triple bypass on me as a veteran working at the Post Office, I was NOT even service connected yet, bit back then any veteran could get health care and they charged my insurance company Blue Cross and Blue Shield for my care and they were paid.

Since I gave been disabled and granted service connection now the VA supplies all of my healthcare at no cost to me or my insurance companies. However when I became disabled Social Security processed my disability claim in 4 months Oct 2002 - March 2003 the VA took until June 2009 to grant my claim for coronary artery disease (CAD) and hypertension more than 6 and half years later and both agencies were working off the same medical records all provided by the VA Hospital.

I get great healthcare from the VA they just can't process claims worth a hoot, and that is a major point your article missed, was it accidental or was it done on purpose?

Will she correct her article to show the difference between benefits and health care, I doubt it, it doesn't fit the "Moonie agenda" to bash health care reform.

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60 Minutes exposes the VA hamster wheel

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