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CO vet fakes blindness to collect $1.3M in VA benefits

Department of Justice. (Scott "Skippy"/Flickr)
April 16, 2019

A Colorado man will serve 12 months in prison, followed by three years supervised release for defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) out of nearly $1.3 million by pretending to be blind.

Mike Rodolfo Blea of Northglenn, Colo. was sentenced Wednesday by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Daniel, who also ordered that Blea also pay $1,273,180.44 in restitution to the VA, according to the Justice Department.

“Justice may be blind, but Mr. Blea isn’t. He will now have a year in federal prison to think about his actions and see a better way going forward,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.

According to Blea’s plea agreement, he was a Vietnam vet and did start receiving disability in 1969 for a minor visual impairment from macular holes in his retinas. As time passed, Blea began to embellish the severity of his impairment and claimed to be blind.

The Justice Department said that Blea was receiving around 90 percent more in disability pension that he was entitled to.

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Blea got eye exams outside of the VA systems, indicating that he had vision that was correctible to 20/30 in one eye and 20/40 in another. Blea also had a valid driver’s license, driving a vehicle regularly with no problems.

Blea was ordered by Judge Daniel to report to a Bureau of Prison Facility once designated. He was charged in Aug. 2018 and pleaded guilty to a single count of concealment of a material fact on Dec. 19, 2018.

Gregg Hirstein, Special Agent in Charge, VA Office of the Inspector General, said, “The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General is committed to bringing justice to those who illegally enrich themselves at the expense of VA programs intended to help our nation’s disabled veterans. This case should serve as a deterrent to those who would seek to defraud the VA.”

In Jan. 2018, another Vietnam veteran committed the same crime, scamming the VA for hundreds of thousands of dollars after pretending to be blind.

Doyle Mullins, Jr., 71, from Bradenton, Florida, was sentenced to nine months of home detention and five years of probation for theft of government funds. As part of his sentence, the court also entered a money judgment against him in the amount of $583,485.74, according to the Justice Department.

Mullins told VA that he was totally and permanently blind, and he was unable to drive, work, or perform household tasks. This continued for over 20 years.

During the span of two decades, Mullin received disability payments from the government, grants from the VA for a car and adaptive housing, and medical benefits payments for his wife.

An investigation revealed that Mullins was, in fact, not blind and was able to perform household tasks, drive and conduct banking.