Despite claims filed with the US Department of Veterans Affairs that claimed he was permanently disabled in a 2005 car accident, former soldier Bruce Hay, right, was photographed shortly after the crash bending over while helping to build a house in Kansas. US Department of Justice photo, composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
After US Army veteran Bruce Hay filed a disability claim with the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2006 for injuries suffered in a car crash, he’d appear for medical appointments using a walker, proof of his permanent neurological damage.
Rated 100% disabled by the VA for conversion disorder with tremors and a list of other ailments, Hay told his physicians he couldn’t work.
His constant jerking motions, uncontrolled tremors, head bobbing, and hobbled legs also kept him from bathing, feeding, or dressing himself, he said. He needed the constant care of his wife just to exist.
But it was all a lie, propped up by Oscar-worthy performances at the VA that disappeared whenever he tossed 70-pound bales of hay on the family farm in Kansas, built homes and strung fences, shot deer, drove tractors, repaired a roof, and hauled more than 1 million pounds of scrap metal to buyers.
During a July 26, 2022, hearing in federal court, US Army veteran Bruce Hay appeared uncontrollably palsied by what he said was a neurological condition. But a day earlier, he'd been caught on a surveillance camera inside Wes’ Recycling, selling without difficulty more than 1,300 pounds of scrap metal he'd hauled to the Centerville, Kansas, business. US Department of Justice photo.
By the time his 15-year con was uncovered, Hay, 54, had stolen at least $760,000 in unearned VA and Social Security disability benefits, plus patient caregiver payments to his wife. And now the Greeley grifter gets to spend the next three years behind bars.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, in Kansas City, US District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson sentenced Hay to 37 months in a federal penitentiary, plus three years of supervised release when he exits the facility. She also ordered him to pay back taxpayers $537,915.87.
Hay had faced up to two decades in prison after jurors convicted him on Aug. 11 on 16 counts of wire fraud and theft of government funds.
Hay tried to get that verdict tossed, but Robinson refused. In an order issued Dec. 2, the judge pointed to the undercover agents who videotaped him scaling a ditch and ambling across an unpaved road.
Although US Army veteran Bruce Hay claimed a 2005 car crash prevented him from working, he strung fences, shot deer, drove tractors, repaired roofs, and erected or repaired houses. US Department of Justice photos.
There also was the surveillance camera footage from inside the VA that showed him struggling to enter a doctor’s office for a medical appointment, compared with other tapes that revealed him bounding about the farm and town.
In 2017, federal agents flicked coins near Hay’s truck in the VA parking lot.
Inside, he twitched and shuffled to get to his doctor.
Outside, he bent over and retrieved the change with no problems, loaded his walker into the vehicle, and then drove to Sam’s Club, where he bought bags of groceries and even jogged to retrieve a runaway shopping cart, she noted.
“Misrepresenting symptoms to the VA to fraudulently obtain benefits takes resources from deserving veterans and will not be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Charge Gregory Billingsley with the VA’s Office of Inspector General’s Central Field Office, in a prepared statement released in the wake of the sentencing. “The VA OIG will continue to vigorously investigate those who would steal from VA benefits programs and taxpayers.”
From April 1 to Sept. 30, 2022, special agents at the Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Veterans Affairs opened 178 investigations and made 135 arrests, according to the agency's semiannual report to Congress. Photo by Alastair Pike / AFP via Getty Images.
Neither Hay nor his defense attorneys returned Coffee or Die Magazine’s messages seeking comment.
In their motions, Hay's lawyers urged the judge to sentence the Army veteran to probation, with no jail time.
But prosecutors found that proposed punishment unjust, partly because leniency could prod more ex-military members to fake their disabilities, too.
“Other veterans who might be included to concoct a similar scheme would likely be deterred if they knew a sentence of imprisonment is the consequence of such acts,” wrote Assistant US Attorney D. Christopher Oakley in his sentencing memorandum to the judge.
The prosecutor asked her to send Hay away for 37 months, and the judge agreed.
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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