Md. Army vet accused of faking he was paraplegic to net $1 million

A Maryland Army veteran has been charged with faking that he was paraplegic in order to claim more than $1 million in veterans disability benefits.

William Rich, 41, of Windsor Mill, allegedly claimed he was paralyzed and unable to walk on medical forms, according to the Department of Justice.

As a result, he got more than $800,000 in Veterans Affairs benefits, and more than $240,000 from Social Security.

The DOJ criminal complaint said Rich served in the Army from roughly Sept. 22, 1998, to Feb. 27, 2007. He sustained injuries on Aug. 23, 2005, while serving in Baqubah, Iraq.

In 2007, according to the DOJ, Rich was listed as 100% disabled “due to the ‘loss of use of both lower extremities,” but “approximately six weeks after Rich’s injuries, he had begun to make substantial progress toward recovery, and was no longer paralyzed.”

The prosecutors cite Rich’s physical from 2005, where an MRI showed “no [spinal] cord impingement” or “[spinal] cord abnormalities” and noted that Rich’s “ … paralysis has resolved somewhat and at present he is able to move his lower extremities.”

A later report in 2006 said Rich could get through essential daily activities with “complete independence” or “modified independence” such as using the bathroom and “locomotion.”

Then in 2007, after a review from a physician who did not check Rich’s medical history, he was granted permanent disability from VA.

In 2018, during a VA Office of Inspector General audit, the agency started looking into Rich’s claims for fraud.

“Over the next two years, VA OIG Special Agents (SAs) conducted surveillance and observed of Rich walking, going up and down stairs, entering and exiting vehicles, lifting, bending, and carrying items — all without visible limitation or assistance of a medical device, including a wheelchair,” the complaint said.

According to an affidavit, the only time Rich used a wheelchair was for VA appointments.

Beyond that, the DOJ said, there are photos of Rich standing without a wheelchair, including “an image Rich took of himself standing in front of a mirror at a gym, as well as videos of Rich lifting weights.”

Rich also “used the funds intended for the purchase of a specially adapted vehicle to buy a BMW 645ci luxury sports coupe,” the DOJ said.

If he’s convicted, Rich faces 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud and a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for theft of government property.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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