Money stolen from disabled military veterans

MEMPHIS, TN - (WMC-TV) – There are new concerns over money stolen from disabled military veterans. One of the most egregious thefts happened right here in Memphis.

The feds are reorganizing Veterans Affairs after more than 100 employees were arrested over the past decade. Two people appointed by Veterans Affairs to make financial decisions on behalf of 10 Memphis veterans siphoned money from their accounts.

At 83, Henry Ashurst has traded in his Army uniform for a Memphis Grizzlies T-shirt. Years after a medical discharge from an injury during military training, Ashurst learned the Veterans Affairs fiduciary and field examiner who handled his money were skimming off the top.

"It was awful, doing that to the veterans," Ashurst said.

The thieves were convicted of embezzling nearly 900-thousand dollars from the 10 disabled veterans. Investigators say 75-year-old Jack Perry and 67-year-old Robert Tabbutt wrote checks from the veterans' accounts, using the money to gamble in Tunica and to pay off gambling debts.

Ashurst didn't know about it until he got a call from reporters.

"Nobody said anything about the embezzlement," he said.

He says he worked directly with Perry for three years and was told 120 thousand dollars were embezzled from his account.

"I think it's pretty bad," Ashurst said. "He looked like a nice man."

He says the amount of his check remained the same after the arrests so he doesn't know if he is due any money.

Since 2006, nearly 500 fiduciaries across the country have lost their jobs over misuse of funds. Ashurst said he doesn't know if he will live to see the stolen money.

Veterans Affairs would not tell Action News 5 if they will reimburse the money to any of the veterans. They say they cannot  release information about individual cases.

Jan Northstar with the Office of Public and  Intergovernmental Affairs issued this statement in response:

"The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken significant efforts to protect Veterans and other beneficiaries in its Fiduciary Program.  Over the past three years, we have been extremely aggressive at targeting and deterring fiduciary misuse by:
·      Strengthening our accounting oversight by requiring detailed financial institution documents.
·      Increasing review and scrutiny of criminal background information through expanded criminal background checks.
·      Greatly enhancing oversight of misuse cases by closer review from VA Central Office.
·      Consolidating VA's fiduciary activities into six regional hubs, resulting in enhanced oversight and service to Veterans.
These efforts are making a difference.  In fiscal year 2011, the misuse rate was less than one-half of one percent nationwide. VA works with State and Federal prosecutors to aggressively pursue convictions when Veterans are harmed.  In fiscal year 2011, VA's Office of Inspector General obtained criminal prosecutions in 20 cases of fiduciary misuse nationwide. VA's proposed regulations, which are in development, will address the notice afforded to beneficiaries following a VA determination that their benefits have been misused."
We are confident that we have a strong plan in place to build on this increased oversight, and continue to ensure the well-being of our most vulnerable beneficiaries."

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