5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Investigates Veterans Benefits Process, Congressional Committee Wants Answers

December 21, 2017 11:00 AM

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs is demanding answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs about the systems and processes in place to prevent people from receiving benefits they are not entitled to after findings from a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation.

The investigation began after a group of Woodbury veterans suspected former Lakeland Mayor Robert Livingston, a VFW member, was exaggerating his military service history.

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The veterans shared with the station what appeared to be military separation papers they say Livingston submitted to the VFW when he applied for membership five years ago. Those papers indicate Livingston served in the Army during the Vietnam War, again in the 80s and 90s, and was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel, while earning medals for bravery.

Post member John Martin said he had questions about Livingston’s medals when he spoke with reporter Eric Chaloux.

“Something is basically wrong,” Martin said.

Sources say federal agents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are also investigating Livingston’s military service history.

During his successful 2012 mayoral campaign in the Washington County community of Lakeland, Livingston citied his military record in a newspaper clipping, quoted as saying he has “military service as a field grade officer..."

This spring, VFW officer Darrin Ewing decided to file a records request to check Livingston's claims.

 “There was no record of this individual serving,” Ewing said. "We learned this information on a Friday afternoon. The next Monday business day, we were at the FBI's doorstep."

A source says a federal investigation revealed Livingston was never paid by the military for the time he claims to have served. And, when 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS checked with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Livingston's service records couldn’t be located.

“Right now we're not as angry, I'm not as angry,” Ewing said. “But I'm more disappointed, disappointed in the system."

"It blows my mind that somebody could even do anything like this," VFW Post 9024 Commander Bob Fritsche said.

For more than a month, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS tried to contact Livingston on the phone, social media and by mail, but have yet to receive a response.

Chaloux tried to speak to the former mayor at an assisted living center about the allegations, but building staff wouldn't allow it, saying Chaloux needed to talk to Livingston’s VA representative, but wouldn't provide a name.

Chaloux has since learned the former mayor is no long receiving care at the center.

Veterans Benefits

Sources have confirmed Livingston received Veterans Health and Financial Benefits.

The St. Paul regional benefits office for the VA couldn’t comment on a specific case but said in a statement, "Veteran service is verified through a variety of means and is always reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

The statement went on to say benefits hinge in part on certified discharge papers - such papers can be approved by local, state or service branch officials.

The VA’s Office of Inspector General filed a report to Congress earlier this year that showed agents worked 14 cases over six months across the country finding almost $988,000 in health care benefits that fell into the wrong hands.

In one case, a man was indicted for health care fraud, claiming he was shot twice as a door gunner while rescuing prisoners of war in Vietnam; it turns out he failed to complete boot camp. He initially got away with $63,000.

The OIG report mentioned a woman who claimed to have fought in Afghanistan; investigators later discovered she was incarcerated during the same period she claimed to have served.

The VA has yet to respond to the Committee of Veterans Affairs questions to provide details on the systems and processes in place when comes to awarding benefits.

"As both a veteran and veterans advocate it galls me to see people take advantage of the good will of others," said Tom Moore, with Lawyers Serving Warriors, a project of the National Veterans Legal Services Program. "It seems hard to believe that someone could have gone through all these steps and been awarded benefits when they didn't earn them."

“What bothers me the most about them is they are taking away from those that have actually sacrificed a part of their body or minds for this country,” said Anthony Anderson, who runs Guardian of Valor.

Anderson, is a Staff Sergeant in the Army, who in his off time, runs a website that averages between 1,000-2,000 emails per week from people asking them to investigate allegations of someone being a military imposter.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS learned from sources that VA OIG agents have turned over Livingston's file to the United States Attorney's Office for review.

Credits

Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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