A North Carolina veteran who claimed to be blind is facing years in prison and a hefty fine for claiming nearly $1 million in benefits over three decades.
John Paul Cook, 57 of Alexander, pleaded guilty on Monday (July 19) to defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs out of the large sum over the years, according to the Charlotte Observer. As part of his plea, he also will forfeit $978,138. 60.
The defrauding stems back to when Cook fell off a ladder in 1986 while on active duty with the U.S. Army, a move that he said worsened his "lifelong" condition of amblyopia, or lazy eye. He was discharged with a disability in 1987 and spent the next 30 years telling the VA that his vision was deteriorating while trying to get increased benefits. Eventually, his $1,411 monthly payments in 1987 grew to $3,990 in 2017, making the total amount he received in disability benefits $978,138.
Cook claimed he couldn't find work because he was unable to "drive, shop or read" and that he was basically blind by 2005. However, per the Observer, he passed vision screening tests to renew his driver's license during that time and began teaching BB gun shooting, archery and land navigation to Boy Scouts.
His plans came to a halt in 2017 when investigators saw him driving around town, including to his VA clinic appointments.
Since pleading guilty, Cook faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of North Carolina. McClatchy News attempted to reach out to Cook and his attorney for comment, but their requests were not met as of Wednesday.