Olive Hill VA volunteer accused of faking serious vision loss to get benefits

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A Carter County man defrauded the federal Veterans Health Administration by faking the extent of his vision loss, a federal grand jury has charged.

The grand jury in Huntington, W.Va., indicted Phillip M. Henderson of Olive Hill on one charge of defrauding a federal health care program.

Earlier in the case, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a news release that Henderson allegedly received about $800,000 through fraud from 1995 through February, including $11,000 for a car and $10,000 for a swimming pool.

However, Henderson's attorney, Sebastian M. Joy, said they will vigorously fight the charge.

"We deny that Mr. Henderson ever defrauded anybody," said Joy, whose office is in Catlettsburg.

Henderson, who is about 50, served in the Army from October 1983 to August 1986. He was stationed in Germany for a time and first experienced vision problems there, Joy said.

Henderson ultimately was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease that causes vision loss and often blindness, according to the indictment.

The VA classified Henderson as 100 percent disabled, qualifying him for monthly compensation and other benefits.

However, the grand jury charged that Henderson lied during eye examinations.

For instance, he pretended he could barely see the letters on eye charts and that he could only see hand motions close to his face, when in fact he could get around without assistance, the indictment charged. Henderson allegedly concealed from the VA that he drove on the highway.

The grand jury first indicted Henderson in March on nine counts of wire fraud over checks he allegedly received illegally.

However, the grand jury issued a superseding indictment Oct. 20 charging one count of health care fraud.

Joy said it wasn't clear why prosecutors sought the change.

Henderson, who has been honored for working more than 16,000 volunteer hours for the VA, contends that he is disabled because he is legally blind, Joy said.

The agency cut Henderson's benefits after the indictment and plans to begin docking his remaining monthly check to recoup money he allegedly received improperly, Joy said.

Henderson has appealed the cut to the agency. His trial in the criminal case is set for next April.