Man Pretends to be Navy SEAL to Steal VA Benefits

A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty to pretending to be a Navy SEAL in order to receive VA benefits to which he was not entitled.

A Pennsylvania man recently pleaded guilty to a scheme to defraud the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.

Richard Meleski, 58, of Chalfont, PA faked serving as a Navy SEAL and falsely represented that he had been a Prisoner of War, in order to secure healthcare benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA) worth over $300,000. Due to his false representation as a POW, Meleski received healthcare from the VA in Priority Group 3, effectively receiving healthcare before other deserving military service members. In reality, Meleski never served a single day in the United States military.

Meleski also filed for monetary compensation from the VA for PTSD he supposedly suffered during an armed conflict in Beirut in which he rescued injured service members.

In his application for disability benefits for PTSD, Meleski falsely represented that he had been awarded the Silver Star for heroic actions during his time as a Navy SEAL, although again, he never served a single day in the United States military and of course was never awarded any service medals.

Meleski also submitted another application to the VA for monetary compensation in which he included obituaries of actual Navy SEALs alongside whom he had supposedly served. In short, according to the Justice Department, he traded on the actions of true heroes in an attempt to bolster his false application for monetary benefits.

Finally, Meleski also filed for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for injuries he claimed to have received during his time in the service. He falsely testified under oath in connection with an SSA Disability proceeding.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Meleski had previously been convicted and served time in prison for arson. In 2003, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for setting fires at Bethlehem Hermitage which was home to a priest and several nuns.

“The prosecutor in the case said Meleski started living there [Bethlehem Hermitage] as a guest in November 2000 because he needed a warm place to wait out the winter, not because he wanted spiritual development. In a taped confession, Meleski said he set two cottages on fire in April 2001 on his 40th birthday because he was drinking and angry,” wrote the Inquirer.

He had previously been convicted in an earlier case of setting fire to a school.

“Meleski faked a record as a decorated U.S. Navy SEAL in order to steal numerous forms of compensation,” said U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain. “Everything about this case is profoundly offensive. Our veterans fought for the freedoms we hold dear, and we owe them a debt that we can never fully repay. But holding individuals like Meleski accountable for their crimes is one small way that we can honor our veterans’ service.”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.