VA OIG Cries Foul, Agency Duped by a Gun-Toting, Felon, Sex Offender

Cheat VA 

Yesterday, VA OIG touted its big win but left out the obvious, that its own doctors did not detect if a person was in fact a paraplegic in a VBA disability claim.

The VA OIG headline read, “So. Carolina Man Faces $250K Fine, 15 Years in Prison for Making False Claims of Paralysis To Obtain VA Benefits,” which linked to a DOJ website.

Here is the dish behind the headline – the real story you will read nowhere else is how VA dropped the ball.

Veteran Steven Bunker was busted for fraud in probably the worst way. He publicized his disabilities from the Iraq War in the local paper called the Sun News, in Myrtle Beach. Many local readers were outraged by the coverage because, as chance would have it, the claims Mr. Bunker made were inflated.

Mr. Bunker told the reporter that “he was paralyzed and unable to walk, drive, eat, or otherwise take care of himself without assistance.” However, the town folk knew better and reached out to the newspaper with reports that Mr. Bunker had been seen walking around and generally taking care of himself.

The newspaper reached out to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. VA OIG then investigated the matter and concluded Mr. Bunker likely misled VA about the severity of his conditions. Mr. Bunker received over $150,000 in disability benefits, which included over $40,000 to purchase a Hummer suited for a paraplegic. This is shocking and gives all disabled veterans a black eye. That is not all, however.

The investigation also revealed:

  • He was a convicted felon in possession of firearms
  • He failed to register as a sex offender of a minor under 16 yrs old
  • He illegally purchased 23 firearms through family members

It is illegal for a person to possess and purchase firearms if they are a felon in most if not all states. It is also illegal for other individuals to knowingly purchase firearms for felons.

During the investigation, Mr. Bunker was investigated by VA, ATF, and US Marshals. For these offenses, he could be charged with $250,000 and/or imprisonment for 15 years.

What I found similarly shocking, and not highlighted anywhere, was the unusual irony in VA’s claim against Mr. Bunker. When it comes to matters like this, a person can conclude one of two things. Either care from VA healed Mr. Bunker’s conditions or at least made them slightly better – this would be great news and could happen in light of how long it takes for VA to process most complicated disability claims. Or, VA failed to administer normal testing to ensure Mr. Bunker’s claims were accurate and that he was in fact paralyzed and in need of a wheelchair.

After all, Mr. Bunker may be a lot of things, but a doctor was not one of them. Instead, it appears VA is throwing him under the bus and implicitly claiming Mr. Bunker fooled well-trained medical professionals in a forensic examination.

In the DOJ press release, the VA deficiencies were not highlighted. Those would be the deficiencies necessary to enable the fraudulent benefits claim, which got the investigation started in the first place.

Let’s take a step back here. We all know VA at times is way over zealous in denying veterans their benefits. One casual Google search leads most readers to the conclusion that the agency as a whole tends to violate regulations and due process rights of veterans on a regular basis. For this, very few if any VA officials see any admonishment.

We also know benefits fraud is very rare – VA OIG says around 0.6% of claims are potentially fraudulent. The numbers are so low for the most easily faked claims that Army no longer pursues malingering actively. And, we also know VA has many tests that could verify whether or not someone is a paraplegic.

So where were these tests? In a day and age of brain mapping practically everything, I find it surprising that VA was duped here, and that they would even allow DOJ to highlight that it happened by a gun toting, sex offender.

What is most unfortunate in instances like this is VA will likely restrict the same benefits Mr. Bunker allegedly exploited – car allowance for paraplegics.

Instead, let’s hope VA will do the right thing and merely chalk this one up as a failed effort to detect whether or not a person is a paraplegic – a task that should be fairly easy to remedy.

Here is the full press release from the Dept. of Justice:

Aynor Residents Plead Guilty To Fraud


Contact Person: Bill Day (803) 929-3000

Columbia, South Carolina —– United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that Steven Mickey Bunker, age 47, of Aynor, South Carolina, and also of Shannon, North Carolina, pled guilty in federal court in Florence, to theft of government property, violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641, and conspiracy to make false statements to federally licensed firearms dealers when purchasing firearms, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.  Thomas Leon Martin, age 66, and Betty Jean Martin, age 74, of both of Aynor, South Carolina, pled guilty to conspiracy to make false statements to federally licensed firearms dealers when purchasing firearms, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.  United States District Judge R. Bryan Harwell of Florence accepted the plea and will impose sentence after he has reviewed the presentence report which will be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Veterans Affairs began an investigation of Steven Mickey Bunker after the Sun News interviewed Steven Bunker and published an article concerning injuries Bunker claimed to have sustained while serving in the military in Iraq.  After the news article was published, the Department of Veterans Affairs was notified because the newspaper received so much negative feedback indicating that Bunker had made false statements concerning his injuries.  At the time, Bunker was receiving total disability from the VA as a result of his claims that he was paralyzed and unable to walk, drive, eat, or otherwise take care of himself without assistance. Bunker’s total disability included payment for others to take care of Bunker at his home. Bunker also received over $40,000 to purchase a vehicle to be driven by someone without the use of their legs which Bunker promptly traded for a Hummer.  The VA’s investigation revealed that Bunker was able to walk, drive, and otherwise take care of himself.  As a result of Bunker’s false claims he received over $159,000 in VA benefits.  Also during the VA investigation it was discovered that Bunker had failed, as required, to register as a sex offender after previously being convicted for a lewd act or attempted lewd act upon a minor less than 16 years of age. It was further discovered that Bunker’s step father, Thomas Leon Martin, and Bunker’s mother, Betty Jean Martin, had assisted Bunker in purchasing twenty three firearms by lying on ATF forms when purchasing the firearms.  Thomas and Betty Martin purchased the firearms by falsely stating on the ATF forms that they were purchasing the firearms for themselves knowing that the purchases were really being made for Steven Bunker who picked out and paid for the firearms.  Steven Bunker was not permitted to purchase firearms because of his prior felony conviction.

Mr. Nettles stated the maximum penalty Bunker can receive is a fine of $250,000.00 and/or imprisonment for 15 years, plus a special assessment of $100.00.

The case was investigated by agents of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the United States Marshals Service.  Assistant United States Attorney William E. Day, II, of the Florence office handled the case.





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  1. This article is nothing new. It just reflects what the VA system is and has been since the “Feres Doctrine.” VA has become a means and a way of life for those with connections, those that understand back door dealings, those that know how to game the system, and people that would be classified as criminals if not for the protection afforded by the VA system. As reflected by the fact that the VA spends more on administration than on benefits and in certain cases more on annual bonuses than certain benefits. VA system is only about harm and drama at the expense of veterans lives and dreams to billions of dollars from the public treasury to public trust being misspent to reward and protect heartless fuckers that would be classified as criminals to murders if not for protection afforded by the VA system.

    The only way I have been able to deal with the VA system is by the support of Congressionals, media outlets in Washington state and Texas, legal to support networks ranging from DAV, Texas Veteran Commission, to ACLU of Washington, ACLU of Texas, the support of my immediate and extended families, friends, service members I served with to fellow veterans, and willingness to be clear and exact with the VA system when possible given harm, drama, and silliness. As reflected by me being one of the few hundred veterans that have submitted medical records since birth, military entrance medical records, DNA analysis, general medical summary of medical records going back 3 generations on my father and mother sides. In spite of being clear and exact given harm, silliness, and drama that comes from the VA system, the VA system (i.e., VA Seattle, VA Dallas) denied, covered up, and fought the damage that they did to my endocrine system. My endocrine system damage is also a result of less than conservative medical care by Madigan Army Medical Center and VA system just being about harm, silliness, and drama instead of providing conservative preventive care and medical care for service connected injuries. At the same time, if not for the $100,000 plus that was spent on me by late 2012 to improve service connected injures in order to mitigate and slow down further muscle skeletal injuries I would have needed more surgeries. As reflected and noted publicly in being exact and clear with the VA system, I also posted a picture because given progress, cost of progress, how much progress in spite of VA harm, drama, and silliness at All the while, US Army (i.e. Madigan Army Medical Center,) VA, VA Seattle, and VA Dallas knew about what they did to my endocrine system in late 2009 given report was submitted to MIB, Inc. by way of lab results from Madigan Army Medical Center and in which such action made me uninsurable until January of this year to was not service rated until late 2013. As of now, more than $150,000 plus has been spent on me. So, what does the VA system and VA Dallas, have to say? Nothing that reflects the honor and integrity of my service to all the clear and exact data to analysis in VA system. Since 2012, VA system, VA Dallas, and VA Waco has been attacking my progress. According to VA system, VA Dallas, and VA Waco, I should be fatter, should still be using a cane, nothing wrong with more surgeries and more medications, being able to finally manage to handle 30 to 70 of weight is good enough progress, reimbursement of $150,000 spent on you is not going to happen because physical therapy, rehabilitation, physical therapy in transition to independent physical fitness is still all experimental and that is what you choose, and other comments that further show VA system is only about harm and drama at the expense of veterans lives and dreams to billions of dollars from the public treasury to public trust being misspent to reward and protect heartless fuckers that would be classified as criminals to murders if not for protection afforded by the VA system.

  2. I think the knife cuts both ways, if it is a crime for a veteran to lie and cheat to get fake benefits, it is crime for the VA to lie and cheat to deny valid benefits. Now, just fine the legal code that applies to the VA, it has to be there somewhere.

    1. Benefits for veterans with especially severe disabilities has been codified since at least 1948, and to suggest the va will cut them (which only Congress can do anyway) is ludicrous. The instant example IS appalling on both the individual’s and examing physician’s parts. if VA IG finds fraud then the vet will be assessed an overpayment for all the money to which he was not entitled and probably never get compensation again. furthermore, if convicted of fraud, a felony, and sent to prison, his benefits would be reduced to the 10% rate as of his 61st day of incarceration, and VA collection of the overpayment would take longer than the 15 year sentence. this vet is a scumbag and deserves to be embarrassed and punished to the full extent of the law. Iwant to see the rresults of the investigation on his C&P exam that concluded he was helpless.

  3. Maybe I missed it, but why isn’t anyone saying that there should be similar punishment for VA staff who lie by saying a disability does not exist? Benjamin opens the door for this question by pointing out that VA staff should easily be able to tell if someone can walk or not. This case, though horrible in conduct, brings us back to the question of what should happen to VA staff who created the secret waiting lists that led tot he deaths of many veterans. If a vet somehow got into medical records of seriously ill VA staff and somehow blocked them from getting life-sustaining medical care, such a vet would face criminal charges, even to include manslaughter or maybe even murder, if those staff died due to being blocked from medical care. The VA has somehow become the one and only government agency in the history of the United States that thinks it is, and maybe actually is, above the law. They are ready to apply the law on cheating veterans, especially in bizarre cases like this vet who faked being a paraplegic, but seem immune to any law or rule or regulation applying to them.

  4. I personally glad he got caught and hopefully his punishment will fit the crime.

    As for myself and my dealings with the VA. Why two months after the BVA Law judge ruled service connection on my disabilities hasn’t the VA contacted me to say “we have heard back from the Federal Judge and we are working on your resolution”?
    And better yet, why would they send paperwork back to the same Regional Office (Reno) to determine a percentage. Since these are the one who denied my original claim based on speculation and BS? The only answer I can come up with, is the same answer I said 4 1/2 years ago. The system needs to be changed, NOW!!! get rid of the goons running the show and start a system that will work better for the Vets.
    But No the “keepers of the crypt” thinks we are all Fraudulent for asking for what we deserve. Yo VA it’s not a hand out!!! Just saying

    1. Reno Nevada VA Regional Office is horrible. They lost all of my VA disability paperwork the 3 times I certified mailed, emailed and faxed it to their office before retiring from Nellis AFB.
      I ended up uploading all my paperwork to ebenefits website to finally get the ball rolling. 13 months later (March 2014), I received my disability percentage.

  5. I’m glad they caught him; however, to the vets that have a legit claim and get denied, this is truly a bad thing in helping us get what we should be getting. I’ve been fighting the VA for almost 6 yrs. now to for an increase. I’ve the proof that they need in black and white. My last exam for C & P was one of the best exams I’ve ever had. This Dr. took the time to go by the books exam sheet, he took the time with me to understand if it affected my daily life and my work, had x-rays done (which showed arthritis again) noted all of my pains, problems and gave a final answer: The condition claimed was at least as likely as not (50% or greater probability) incurred in or caused by the claimed in-service injury, event or illness. Everything in the report shows that my condition has worsened in every way and that, in his words, “If yes, describe the impact of each of the Veteran’s knee and/or lower leg conditions providing one or more examples: Physical labor requiring regular use of his knees is not possible. So I can’t do a job that requires the regular use of my knees and it “IS NOT POSSIBLE”. I rec, my decision and I was denied an increase. I can’t believe this. I’ve much more wrong and looking at the codes, regs, and requirements, I meet 3 to 4 and maybe 5 of them for an increase in each. I’ve contacted the VFW that was with me in the hearing and they haven’t gotten back to me. I guess I’ll have to get a lawyer to help me. I just can not understand this. If they look at my other QTC exams, they are nothing but lies. They put down things they never did, changed my answers on the questionnaire they send you. My PCP has not helped at all. He will not put down anything in my records that will show a worsening of my knees. Thanks VA

    1. the PCP we first had at the VA also wrote one of those useless letters for us. He was so wishy washy that it stunk so I know your feelings. Yah it’s now time to get a Good Attorney and take them to task.

      1. Yeah, it is so dis-heartening to see the examiners report and think that you might actually get an increase and to have to fight this long only to be denied. It is also expected from the VA as that is what they do. I did not fight my previous request for an increase as I thought it may have not been bad enough to get an increase. This time I knew how bad they are, I am in so much pain I have been to the Chronic Pain Management classes and I am now on morphine for my pain. And after being on it for almost two years, it is not helping as much and I made the mistake of asking if it would be possible to increase my pain med. I have jumped through their hoops for all this time, passed all their random pee tests, never asked before this time for and increase (and with all opioids, they don’t do as good after a while). My result from that, I was sent to the Chronic Pain Management Safety Committee who have decided to stop my pain meds cold turkey, no weaning off, just “you need to make a decision”. There was no decision, they made it for me. I can’t take Ibuprofen due to an internal bleeding from them prescribing me 1600mG of ibuprofen a day for over five yrs. But of course they will never put that in black and white. Thanks for the conformation on getting legal help I think I need it.

    1. At my appointment yesterday, when the nurse turned on her computer, it came up as Windows 2000. I said “is that really Windows 2000”? She replied “Yes”. and I questioned the use of that being over 14 yrs. old and the security risk. She replied with she didn’t know, she was just doing her job. Her job included putting my full SSN on this and my name. If I wasn’t feeling so bad I should’ve refused and I think I will contact the worthless Patient Advocate to see what their answer is. I don’t know if it is connected to the Internet but if it isn’t connected now and it is later. My info as well as all the other vets info that was put in that computer will be out there for all the crooks (besides the one’s in the VA) to get. The other computer that they had me sign my consent was using XP. So now they have my name, SSN, and my written signature. This seems so wrong but the nurse and Dr. (who had me sign the consent) did not seem to care or have any worries. I will be checking my credit report closer now and I am going to call the Patient Advocate after I finish this. Just thought I would put this in here as I saw the floppy disk remark. Sad but true.


    1. The issue here is that there are no “answers” to the test. VA uses electro shock sensors to gauge whether or not his spine truly is paralyzed. You cannot fake those results.

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