Fake Veteran Sent To Prison After Stealing $300,000 In VA Services

U.S. Navy Basic Underwater Demolition/Sea-Air/Land (SEAL) (BUD/S) trainees launch a rubber boat into the surf during a
U.S. Navy Basic Underwater Demolition/Sea-Air/Land (SEAL) (BUD/S) trainees launch a rubber boat into the surf during a "hell week" exercise. Phase I of (BUD/S) training concludes with "hell week", when students' physical, emotional and mental abilities are tested under adverse conditions. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Richard Meleski is going to jail after stealing $300,000 in health care services from the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

For years, Meleski claimed he was a Navy Seal who once spent 18 hours as a prisoner in Beirut in the 1980s. Meleski claimed that he was part of Navy SEAL Team Six and that his unit was captured. He told anyone that would listen that his hand was shattered by his captors before he escaped by jumping out of a window.

Between 2010 and 2019, Meleski convinced the VA to treat his PTSD and other medical conditions.

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage issued the following statement at the conclusion of the trial: “What I see is a 60-year-old pretender who flagrantly scammed the VA at the expense of those who deserve it… A man who lived years in a fantasy.”

When Judge Savage asked Meleski to explain his actions, Meleski said, “I guess I wanted to be someone who I wasn’t… To all the veterans, my girlfriend — my ex-girlfriend, I should say — and all the people I caused shame to, I’m so very sorry from the deepest layer of my heart and soul.”

Meleski comes from a military family. His father is a veteran of the United States Air Force.

According to American Military News, Meleski is prone to fabricating stories. In the 1980s he worked as a volunteer firefighter. It was later determined that he would set fires so he could rush in, save the day, and then accept the public praise that would come with his actions.

In one of his more shocking arson arrests, Meleski was living with a group of nuns when it was discovered that he was stockpiling altar wine. In response, Stars and Stripes revealed that he started a fire at a Catholic hermitage in Morris County, N.J.

Adding insult to injury, NBC10 Philadelphia says his application for benefits with Veterans Affairs claimed he was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions.

“The fact that Meleski chose to put himself ahead of true war heroes in order to take advantage of benefits designed specifically for those serving in the U.S. military is profoundly offensive,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said of the man’s actions.

Meleski’s tales of military woe didn’t end with stories of his own capture. The man also made up stories about two sons that didn’t exist. He told co-workers at one job that a son named Joshua died in a training accident while serving as a Navy crewman. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, his coworkers “organized a memorial service at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, found a Navy chaplain to preside over the event, and raised money to host a luncheon in his dead son’s honor.”

At another job, he said one of his fake sons was an Army soldier who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq. The company he worked for gave him $1,000 to help pay for part of his fake son’s funeral expenses.

In reality, Meleski hadn’t spent a single day in the military. An investigation revealed that he was in and out of New Jersey prisons for most of his life.

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After it was discovered that Melesky falsified military records to start receiving treatment at the Philadelphia VA in 2010, he pled guilty in July of last year to several felony and misdemeanor charges. Among his illegal actions were two counts of mail fraud and one count of stolen valor.

The 40 months in jail also includes added time from a separate charge in which Meleski convinced his girlfriend to purchase two pistols for his own personal use. As a convicted felon, he was not legally allowed to own guns.

James Kosur

James Kosur is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE