Marine Vet Accused of Stealing More Than $344K in Benefits Lied on Purple Heart Application: DOJ

A Navy veteran charged with theft of value allegedly stole more than $344,000 in military disability benefits and filed a Purple Heart claim for injuries sustained in a highway bombing that never happened.

Paul John “PJ” Herbert, 52, of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, was indicted by a federal grand jury and arrested Friday morning on one count of government theft and one count of making false statements, according to the Department. of Justice.

Herbert allegedly stole more than $344,000 in veterans’ disability benefits “used to assist veterans in need” from January 1, 2010 to March 11, 2023, “falsely representing” himself as a decorated, wounded war hero in the performance of his service.

Herbert served in the Marine Corps on active duty from 1989 to 1993 and in the reserves from 1993 to 1995.

Herbert also applied to his local congressman for a Purple Heart in October 2018, alleging that he suffered a traumatic brain injury from an improvised explosive device (IED) during a deployment to Iraq after the end of the Gulf War.

The Purple Heart is the oldest American military award still awarded and was first awarded to soldiers toward the end of the Revolutionary War in 1782 by George Washington.Getty Images

“Not only did he steal tens of thousands of dollars in disability benefits that were supposed to be used to help veterans in need, but he also falsely claimed to have suffered a traumatic brain injury during his deployment in an effort to receive the Purple Heart that he did not received. He doesn’t deserve it,” said U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Levy.

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“Stealing from our country’s veterans or claiming value where there is none is an insult to the honorable service members who sacrifice for our safety,” Levy added.

Herbert’s false claims were first discovered last August after he was forced to apologize to his fellow veterans for embellishing his military service and receiving medals and money he had not earned, the Greenfield Record reported.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington, DC, on July 22, 2019. The US Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington, DC, on July 22, 2019. AFP via Getty Images

“I just needed to feel important. I started to feel important and good about myself and I didn’t know how to get out,” Herbert told the outlet in 2022.

“I know I hurt a lot of people who trusted me and cared about me and everything else.”

Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans Services began investigating a report of false claims by Herbert in the fall of 2021, according to the outlet.

The service was first made aware of Herbert’s fraudulent claims after the organization’s deputy director, Christopher Demars, attended an event where the alleged veteran of stolen value discussed his time in Iraq with his fellow veterans.

The headquarters of Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans Services in Massachusetts.The Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans Services headquarters located in Greenfield, MA.

Herbert claimed to have survived a deadly IED attack in northern Iraq while conducting military operations with the British Royal Marines to defend fleeing Kurdish refugees following the end of the Persian Gulf War.

He claimed that members of the British service were killed during the attack.

“Improvised explosive devices didn’t exist until Afghanistan and Iraq,” Demars said.

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Herbert later told the outlet that there was no IED explosion and that no Royal Marines were killed.

Herbert’s account of the attack was also not documented on his DD214 (a release or discharge from active duty document given to service members upon leaving the military), according to Demars.

Herbert admitted to using an experience that Demars had shared with him privately about being seriously wounded in Afghanistan and that the alleged scammer recounted as his own during an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 2017, the outlet reported.

Demars, a 27-year veteran of the US Army who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for Valor, told Herbert of the time he regained consciousness when he heard the propellers of a medical helicopter coming down. He was coming towards him after being wounded.

“I told him that [expletive] history and the [expletive] I used it,” Demars told the outlet last year.

After being caught in the lie, Herbert had no choice but to accept his actions.

“I know I hurt Chris a lot,” Herbert told the outlet. “I sincerely apologized.”

If convicted, Herbert faces up to five years in prison for making the false Purple Heart claim and 10 years in prison for stealing from the US government, according to the Justice Department.

Both charges include “a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross profit or loss, whichever is greater.”

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