Veteran admits defrauding VA

A Las Vegas man who lied to obtain benefits from the Veterans Administration for post-traumatic stress disorder ostensibly stemming from his service in Vietnam pleaded guilty Tuesday to theft of government funds and to a second count of unlawful wearing of a service medal, a Purple Heart, that he was never awarded.

David M. Perelman, 57, faces up to 10 years in federal prison on the first count and up to a year on the second, as well as a combined $350,000 in fines when U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson sentences him Dec. 1.

Perelman fraudulently received more than $180,000 in VA benefits from 1995 through 2008, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Yang.

More than $20,000 was paid to treat his diabetes; the remainder went to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, but Perelman never saw combat. He claimed he was wounded by shrapnel, but an injury to his leg was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound incurred more than 20 years after he returned from Vietnam.

Perelman pleaded guilty to wearing the Purple Heart, awarded to members of the armed forces who are injured in battle, over a two-week period in August 2008. The charge of unlawful wearing of a service medal is connected to the Stolen Valor Act, which the 9th Circuit appeals court recently declared unconstitutional.

Dawson, however, ruled the circumstances regarding Perelman were unrelated to the facts in the 9th Circuit's case. In a rare move, the judge allowed Perelman to retain his right to appeal the constitutionality of the act. His attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Rene Vallarades, said he will appeal the conviction to challenge the "facial validity" of the Stolen Valor Act. Critics -- and more than one judge -- have determined the act violates free speech rights.

But Dawson found in Perelman's case that the issue transcends free speech because Perelman's lies allowed him to profit through fraudulently obtained benefits.

Perelman received the Purple Heart from the Air Force in 1994 based on the phony documents he submitted. He served roughly three months in Vietnam in 1971 as an air cargo specialist.

The VA did not find any evidence that Perelman was wounded while in the service, but the agency, citing his Purple Heart, approved his claim in 1995.

Lying to obtain a Purple Heart was not Perelman's only attempt to portray himself as a hero. In 1997 he was the subject of a criminal investigation after claiming to be a Medal of Honor winner.

That case was dismissed due to a delay in prosecution.

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