An Oceanside, California, man has pleaded guilty to stealing $145,035 that was intended for a military widow.
Michael Vanden Brink, 57, admitted in federal court Sept. 5 that he collected a military widow’s benefits for nearly 10 years after she died. The widow, who died on June 30, 2004, at her home in Oceanside, had been receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits since 1972.
DIC is a benefit paid to eligible survivors of service members who died in the line of duty, or eligible survivors of veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease. The benefit is paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Information was not available on which branch of service the widow’s husband served in. She was identified only as H.C.C. for privacy reasons, said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Hill, in the Southern District of California.
Brink is not a relative of the deceased widow, Hill said. However, Brink shared a joint bank account with her, and her monthly DIC benefits were paid into that joint bank account. Information about the nature of their relationship was not available.
As part of his plea agreement, Brink has agreed to pay $145,035 to the VA. He will be sentenced on Dec. 10, and faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $390,060.
According to the plea agreement, Brink informed the bank of the widow’s death, but he didn’t notify the bank that the monthly DIC deposits should stop. Instead, he continued to receive the monthly deposits until Feb. 26, 2014, and was the only owner of the bank account. Brink received monthly bank statements.
He acknowledged that he knew he wasn’t entitled to the money and that it belonged to the United States, according to the plea agreement.
If the issue isn't fixed, investigators warn, it could cost taxpayers more than $100 million in the next five years.
The theft was discovered as the result of “proactive database matching, which cross-references all VA payees against the Social Security Administration’s death records," Hill said.
The investigation shows the VA Office of Inspector General’s “commitment to aggressively pursue individuals who defraud VA programs. The VA OIG will continue to identify criminal activity in order to protect the integrity of VA programs,” said Special Agent in Charge A.E. Pleasant, of the western field office of the VA IG’s criminal investigations division.
“For almost a decade, this defendant stole thousands of dollars intended to help the families of our brave men and women in uniform,” said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. “This prosecution demonstrates the commitment of the United States Attorney’s Office to protecting the integrity of programs for our veterans and their families.”