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NC veteran claimed he was blind for 30 years, sentenced to prison

Court records show that John Paul Cook made fraudulent disability claims for over 30 years and received nearly $1 million.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A man will serve time in federal prison after pleading guilty to stealing public money by submitting fraudulent claims for veteran disability services.

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John Paul Cook, 58, appeared in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina on Monday where he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for defrauding the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Half of the 10-month sentence will be served at home. Cook will also be ordered to pay $930,762.53 to the VA.

According to court records, Cook suffered an accidental injury as a member of the U.S. Army in 1986. Cook told authorities at the time the injury worsened a preexisting eye condition. He was medically discharged in 1987 and began receiving disability-based compensation from the VA.

Cook's compensation from the VA increased over the next 30 years as he continued to falsely claim his injury visually impaired him and made him unemployable, according to court records.

In 2005, Cook was declared legally blind by the VA after further false claims. He received disability payments at the maximum rate from this point on.

Cook also received special monthly compensation and housing grants from the VA for his claimed disability.

The payments Cook received from the VA each month grew from $1,411 in 1987 to $3,990 in 2016. In total, Cook received $978,138, according to court records.

Despite his blind claims, court records state Cook routinely passed vision exams to maintain a driver's license in North and South Carolina. He also was certified for land navigation and performed many tasks with the Boy Scouts of America that required him to have adequate vision, according to court records.

Cook began submitting reimbursement claims for long trips he took that he said were to go to his appointments with VA doctors.

In February 2017, federal agents informed Cook he was under investigation for his fraudulent claims. Investigators told Cook they had seen him driving and performing activities as if he could see normally. 

After this meeting, Cook stopped driving his vehicle to the VA Medical Center but still submitted reimbursement claims for his visits.

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Cook was indicted in federal court in December 2020 on four separate charges. He initially pleaded not guilty but by July 2021, Cook accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to theft of public money.

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