BALTIMORE — An army veteran from Windsor Mill is accused of falsely claiming to be paralyzed in order to collect more than $1 million in disability benefits through the VA and Social Security.
Federal prosecutors acknowledge that 41-year-old William Rich was injured while serving in Iraq back in August 2005.
In 2007 the VA rated Rich 100 percent disabled due to the “loss of use of both lower extremities," which entitled him to tax-free monetary benefits.
The decision was made following an exam in October 2007 where a physician wrote, “Since [Rich's] accident, he has been paralyzed in both lower extremities; has been confined to a wheelchair.”
Turns out that physician never had access to Rich’s full medical file and did not order an x-ray, stating he “did not feel that it was worth the trauma to [Rich] of manipulating him around.”
Court documents dispute that doctor's assessment, alleging that Rich had actually made substantial progress and was no longer paralyzed.
Prosecutors cite an annual physical examination from October 2005 where an MRI found no spinal cord impingement or abnormalities, noting that Rich was able to move his lower extremities.
Another medical report from December 2006 indicated Rich could perform certain essential daily activities with “complete independence” or “modified independence.”
After receiving conflicting reports on Rich's health status, the VA Inspector General suspected potential fraud and decided to conduct surveillance.
Over the next two years, investigators on multiple occasions witnessed Rich walking, going up and down stairs, entering and exiting vehicles, lifting, bending, and carrying items—all without visible limitation or assistance of a wheelchair or other medical device.
In fact, agents say the only time Rich did use a wheelchair was when going to the VA for an appointment.
They highlighted five occasions between March 2019 and February 2021, where Rich was seen either loading his wheelchair into the trunk of his car before or after a VA medical appointment, using a wheelchair at VA appointments, or wheeling himself from a VA medical appointment to his car, and then loading his wheelchair into the car.
During that time frame Rich apparently shared photos and videos of himself on social media lifting weights at a gym.
Court documents also make mention of how Rich received additional VA grants to help purchase a specially adapted vehicle, but instead bought a luxury BMW.
Rich faces a maximum sentence of 30 years behind bars if convicted. He's currently on pre-trial release.