William Jones said he wanted help with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2013, Jones, 86, told officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that his disorder stemmed from his service in the Vietnam War, when the AC-130 Spectre gunship he claimed to be on was shot down, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Rock Island, Illinois.
Jones — who had retired from a decades-long stint in the Reserve and National Guard the year prior — said he received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal because of his time in Vietnam.
He wanted disability benefits for that service, but there was just one problem: It was all a lie, according to the DA’s office.
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Jones was first denied the money after the VA checked his service records, but he was later awarded $71,142 after he appealed the decision and received help from the American Legion, which lobbied on his behalf.
The American Legion unknowingly used a newspaper article brimming with false details about Jones’ service to argue that he was a veteran and deserved the payments. The article included fake copies of certificates for service and combat awards, according to the DA’s office.
U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin also received a false “Privacy Act Release” form from Jones that included more false information. It said Jones, assigned to Special Operations, was shot down in enemy territory in 1972 and that a group of Marines rescued him three weeks later.
“In fact, as Jones well knew, he never served in Vietnam; was never assigned to Special Operations in Vietnam, and, was never shot down and rescued by U.S. Marines,” the DA’s office wrote. “As a result of these false statements to Senator Durbin, the Senator conveyed the false statements to the VA in support of the defendant’s claim for disability benefits.”
Jones pleaded guilty to lying about his service in August, the DA’s office wrote, and has to pay a $40,000 fine plus the $71,142 he received from the VA. He will also spend eight months in federal prison and will remain on supervised release for three years after that.