Army vet indicted for feigning paraplegia, taking $1 million in benefits

A Baltimore County man, who was severely injured while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, has been indicted for illegally getting more than $1 million in Social Security and Veterans Disability benefits, by pretending to be a paraplegic for over a decade.

William Rich, 41, has been indicted in federal court in Maryland with five counts of wire fraud and one count of theft of government property.

According to charging documents, the investigation into Rich began after a 2018 audit by the inspector general’s office of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prosecutors said the VA rated Rich 100% disabled, due to the loss of use of both legs, neurogenic bowel dysfunction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rich was injured in 2005, in Iraq, when a bomb exploded in the dining facility where he was eating. He suffered temporary paralysis from the waist down, and incontinence.

Yet, six weeks later, Rich’s condition improved substantially, according to prosecutors — a doctor’s report stated Rich had no spinal cord issues. Weeks later, another doctor wrote Rich was completing many daily tasks with “complete independence.”

However, during medical examinations, Rich maintained he was paralyzed “from the navel down.”

By March 2019, the agents with the Office of the Inspector General were following Rich. He arrived at a VA medical appointment in a wheelchair.

“Immediately following the appointment, in the [VA] parking garage, Rich placed his wheelchair in the trunk of his vehicle and walked to the driver’s door of his vehicle,” according to charging documents.

Later that day agents observed Rich standing inside a barber shop.

Prosecutors said Rich had received benefits to purchase a specially adapted vehicle. Instead, he bought a sporty BMW coupe — too small to be outfitted with hand controls

In addition, agents monitored Rich’s social media. Images from his Instagram account allegedly show him at the gym, lifting weights, standing without assistance, and crouching.

During the time Rich was being watched by agents, he only used his wheelchair while going to his VA appointments.

Rich remains free until trial. If convicted he could face up to 30 years behind bars.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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