Disabled veteran going to prison after feds catch him walking


Julia Marnin
The Charlotte Observer
(TNS)

A U.S. Navy veteran considered “100% disabled” always visited a VA medical center in a wheelchair, then ditched the device once he left his appointments — often to go shopping and walk around stores, according to federal prosecutors.

Christopher Stultz of New Hampshire is accused of pretending to be unable to walk for two decades, allowing him to steal $662,871.77 in benefits meant for disabled veterans, federal prosecutors said.

Now the 49-year-old Antrim resident has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after previously pleading guilty to making false statements, U.S. Attorney Jane E. Young, of the District of New Hampshire, said in a May 6 news release. Antrim is about an 80-mile drive northwest of Boston.

The federal defender appointed to represent him, Dorothy E. Graham, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on May 7.

Witnesses reported Stultz “was in good physical condition and walked normally” for more than 20 years, court documents state. He once taught at an elementary school and worked at a gym, where the gym’s owner reported he never used a wheelchair, according to prosecutors.

Following these reports, the Department of Veterans Affairs started investigating. Then, Stultz was captured on surveillance footage, on multiple occasions, walking after his visits to VA centers, according to court documents.

“Once he left the VA facilities he abandoned the façade,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

VA doctor discovers he could ‘obviously walk’

On one occasion, in October 2021, Stultz arrived for an appointment at a Boston VA medical center in his wheelchair, prosecutors said. Afterward, he headed to his car inside a parking garage and was seen standing up, according to prosecutors.

Then, he hoisted his wheelchair into his car and drove to a shopping mall, where prosecutors said he “walked without impairment through multiple stores.”

Afterward, Stultz visited a liquor store and a Kohl’s, where he was also spotted walking, according to the sentencing memo.

A year later, he parked in a handicap space at a VA medical center in Manchester, New Hampshire, and saw his doctor, who determined he “was still unable to use his feet,” court documents say.

Following the appointment, he was caught strolling through a mall without any “ambulatory devices” before he went to shop, and walk, at a Target and at another shopping plaza, according to prosecutors.

After being shown surveillance footage, his VA physician said Stultz could “obviously walk,” court documents state.

His injury after joining the Navy

Stultz actively served in the Navy from 1995 through 1999, when he was discharged, according to prosecutors.

A year after joining the service, he fell off a horse and got hurt, prosecutors said.

From that point on, “he performed light duties” until his discharge, according to prosecutors. Afterward, the VA rated him as “partly disabled” — until prosecutors said he started lying.

By 2003, Stultz maintained he couldn’t use his feet and was rated as “100% disabled” by the VA, according to prosecutors.

In February of that year, he received $2,994 in monthly disability benefits that “steadily increased,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

In December 2021, he was collecting $4,774.61 a month, the sentencing memo says.

Because it was believed that he couldn’t use both feet, Stultz was awarded nearly $190,000 from the VA’s Automobile Adaptive Equipment program, according to prosecutors.

This allowed him to purchase cars “designed to help mobility-impaired veterans,” prosecutors said.

However, he’s accused of selling the cars in exchange for cash, according to prosecutors.

‘Disease forgery’ defense

Ahead of sentencing, prosecutors said a forensic psychological evaluation was used as a major part of Stultz’s defense.

In citing the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), a doctor determined he met “the criteria for factitious disorder,” according to a sentencing memo submitted by his defense counsel.

“Factitious disorder is often disease forgery for the sake of the forgery itself, coupled with concomitant benefits of being ill (that may include nurturing, attention, sympathy, and lenience from others),” the doctor concluded.

In the sentencing memo, Graham wrote that “while the disorder does not excuse Mr. Stultz’s criminal responsibility, it does provide context to his behavior” and “provides an explanation rooted in conduct motivated by forces other than malicious greed.”

However, prosecutors argued that this wasn’t enough to support his defense.

“He only sought ‘nurturing, attention, sympathy, and lenience’ from the VA, and ultimately obtained over $660,000 in benefits through his lies,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

“Like many white-collar defendants, (he) has a loving family and supportive friends. … But despite having it all, he still chose to commit this crime.”

As part of his sentencing, Stultz must pay $662,871.77 in restitution, according to prosecutors.

Federal agents “indicated” to prosecutors and his defense that he will “need to be reevaluated for a new Disability Compensation Rating,” according to the sentencing memo submitted by Graham.

“This is one of the most egregious benefits fraud cases ever prosecuted in this state. … He stole not only from taxpayers, but also his fellow veterans who were entitled to the benefits,” Young said in a statement.

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