Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer
The Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) that three locals have allegedly cheated out of $250,000 is one of the places student veterans go to receive health care.
Though the alleged fraud does not directly effect the funds that veterans who are Baylor students or students who are children of veterans receive, Baylor veterans go to the Temple medical center to receive care.
Tony Plunk is one of the veterans who goes to the Temple VAMC for some of his health care. Since he is disabled, he gets a check and free health care, but he has to get through the bureaucracy of the VA. The GI Bill, which is a law that provides benefits to returning veterans, pays for his school and he gets help with rent for his service. He said he feels like because it is considered “un-American” to not support veterans, they’re “easy pickings” and can easily be taken advantage of.
“[Fraud at the VA] seems commonplace. It seems like people try to use as bait to skim money. We all need it, but for people who are missing legs or old, they steal for of their plate and that’s pretty wrong,” Plunk said.
Federal authorities filed charges against Christopher Sebek, a VA employee, his wife Melissa Sebek, who is an accountant serving their local VA office and their friend Jefferey Pearson, owner and operator of Whitetail Industrial Parts and Service, a Temple VA contractor on September 26 according to TDT News.
The trio allegedly made an agreement in 2012 for Sebek to approve fraudulent invoices from his wife and friend for VAMC expenses over a five-year period, according to TDT News. Sebek then reportedly used the invoices to pay for personal expenses and Pearson’s 30 percent commission on the invoices according to court records. Sebek also allegedly stole two VAMC credit cards for the same uses.
“If convicted, the defendants each face up to five years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years in federal prison on the theft charge. All three will receive summonses for their initial appearance in federal court in Waco,” according to TDT News.
Kevin Davis is the Veteran Educational and Transition Services (VETS) Program Manager and said that it seems like there is a new VA fraud every week.
“My role is transition support, and I take care of veterans’ hierarchy of needs [when they arrive to Baylor]. The first need is financial aid,” Davis said.
According to Davis, VETS also supplies access to various success programs and services designed to help veterans transition to college life, including a VA clinical social worker who offers counseling, Seth Miller.
“Your heart breaks because of the ripple effects,” Davis said. “It does make you frustrated about the selfishness of that action. I would imagine in the national scheme of things (though I have no purview on whole) I’m not sure where that [financial] hit might land. I know the VA is always vying for more help [budget-wise].”
There has been concern about the sustainability of the GI Bill according to Davis. If there’s not enough money, programs shut down. Davis said this phenomenon might happen to initiatives the Temple VAMC was planning for this year if it cannot replace the money that was allegedly taken, Davis said.