A Fairport, NY man pleaded guilty to claiming to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in order to get disability payments from the VA.
According to an announcement from the Justice Department, Michael Pecka, 33, filed a claim for VA Disability Benefits in 2011 claiming that he had PTSD after witnessing the suicide of two fellow soldiers while deployed to Kuwait in 2004-2005 with the Army Reserve.
In support of his claim, he described in detail the two suicides that he claimed to have witnessed to include his distance from the soldiers, the manner in which they each committed suicide, his observation of the bodies, and his role in the investigations. As a result of this claim, Pecka received a high disability rating and was awarded tax free disability benefits of $3,167 per month. In total, he received over $92,000 in tax free VA Disability benefits to which he was not legally entitled.
As an interesting aside, he filed the initial claim while he was an inmate in federal prison for an unrelated bank fraud conviction.
An investigation conducted by the VA Office of Inspector General found that some of his claims about the suicides didn’t add up.
In the case of one of the soldiers, the IG found Pecka was not even in the same country at the time the suicide occurred. Pecka repeatedly stated under oath that he watched this soldier commit suicide, when in fact, he was stationed over 6,000 miles away in Kuwait when the soldier committed suicide near Ft. Drum, NY.
On May 24, 2018, Pecka provided statements to an undercover VA Office of Inspector General Special Agent whom he believed to be a VA Field Examiner conducting a routine file update for his compensation claim. During that meeting, Pecka falsely told the agent that he personally witnessed the suicide of one of the soldier, now claiming that it happened while they were “on a mission” together. Pecka described the incident stating that soldier shot himself with his pistol without warning, and that he reported the incident to his First Sergeant. None of that was true.
Regarding the second suicide, Pecka falsely claimed that he saw the muzzle fire from the discharge of that soldier’s rifle, discovered that victim in his vehicle, and then reported the suicide to Military Police. This too was a lie.
After making these statements to the undercover VA-OIG Special Agent, Pecka completed a new VA Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Form, in his own hand. In that statement, the defendant again falsely claimed that he saw both soldiers shoot themselves.
Pecka was ordered detained pending sentencing on both cases, which is scheduled for January 24, 2019. He is charged with making a false official statement which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.