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Marine veteran trying to get Purple Heart lied about brain injury in Iraq, feds say

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Purple Heart

Photo by Cpl. Brian Reimers

I Marine Expeditionary Force

Julia Marnin

The Charlotte Observer

A U.S. Marine veteran determined to receive a Purple Heart medal lied about suffering severe injuries during a roadside explosion in northern Iraq, according to federal prosecutors.

The Purple Heart, one of the oldest U.S. military awards, is awarded to those who were injured or killed “as a result of enemy action” during their military service. It’s “a solemn distinction and means a service member has greatly sacrificed themselves, or paid the ultimate price, while in the line of duty,” per USO.org.

Paul John Herbert, 52, of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, lied on a Purple Heart application — submitted to the U.S. Marine Corps through his congressman in October 2018 — by claiming he suffered a traumatic brain injury and other injuries during his deployment to northern Iraq, prosecutors said.

He also stole more than $344,000 in veterans disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs from January 2010 to March 2023, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Herbert was arrested on Sept. 1 and indicted on charges of theft of government money and making false statements, the attorney’s office announced in a Sept. 1 news release.

McClatchy News contacted an attorney representing Herbert for comment on Sept. 4 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

“Mr. Herbert’s alleged conduct is an affront to every veteran who has sacrificed to earn the honor of a Purple Heart and who is deserving of disability benefits,” U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Levy said in a statement.

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

‘I just needed to feel important’

The Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans’ Services District, a local veterans advocacy organization, first investigated Herbert after he spoke about his military service during a local veterans event in Massachusetts a few years ago, according to the Greenfield Recorder.

At the event, Herbert said he was the sole survivor of an improvised explosive device attack when British Royal Marines were purportedly killed during his deployment to northern Iraq in the 1990s, the newspaper reported.

However, the Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans’ Services District learned this was never mentioned in a military document — Herbert’s Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty — the group obtained following a Freedom of Information Act request, according to the newspaper.

“(Herbert) well knew…he had not suffered traumatic brain injury from a roadside explosion while deployed in Northern Iraq,” the indictment says.

McClatchy News contacted the U.S. Navy for comment and for more information regarding Herbert’s service in the Marine Corps on Sept. 4 and is awaiting a response.

In an August 2022 article published by the Greenfield Recorder, Herbert admitted to lying about his experiences in the military and receiving undeserved awards and money.

“I just needed to feel important,” Herbert told the newspaper at the time. “I started feeling important and feeling good about myself and I didn’t know a way to get out. I know I hurt a lot of people that trusted me and cared about me and everything else.”

After Herbert’s initial appearance in federal court on Sept. 1, he was released on conditions not specified in the news release.

If Herbert is convicted on the count of theft of government money, he will have to forfeit the $344,040 he’s accused of stealing from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the indictment.

The charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.

The charge of making a false statement in connection with Herbert’s Purple Heart application carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, according to the release.

More than 1.8 million U.S. service members have been awarded a Purple Heart, including President John F. Kennedy, the only U.S. president who’s received the award, according to the United Service Organizations.

Shelburne Falls is about 115 miles northwest of Boston.

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