Zachary Ryan Barton, 35, was sentenced on Aug. 12, 2022, to a year behind bars and three years of supervised release when he exits a federal penitentiary. He pleaded guilty to defrauding the US Department of Veterans Affairs by faking or exaggerating injuries. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
A Florida veteran who faked a limp, wore an adult diaper to his VA appointments, and lied about getting PTSD from combat is going to prison.
On Friday, Aug. 12, US District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon sentenced Zachary Ryan Barton, 35, to a year behind bars and three years of supervised release when he exits a federal penitentiary.
She also ordered him to reimburse taxpayers $245,932.52 for the benefits he received from the US Department of Veterans Affairs for his bogus maladies.
The ex-US Army medic had faced up to 10 years behind bars. He inked a plea deal with federal prosecutors on May 19, but key issues in the case had remained unresolved, including the question of how much money he allegedly received unlawfully from the VA.
Authorities dropped one count of giving false statements to the VA in exchange for his confession to stealing public money.
Iraqi army soldiers react after a simulated improvised explosive device detonated during a Nov. 6, 2010, exercise with members of 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade. US Army photo by Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger.
There never was any doubt that Barton deserved some VA disability payments.
The former enlisted platoon medic from Fort Stewart’s 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, was barred from reenlistment and then discharged from the Army for contracting Guillain-Barré syndrome, a very rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks nerve cells, potentially leading to paralysis and death.
The military rated him 80% disabled, according to a recent legal filing. In 2012, Barton filed a disability claim with the VA for both the syndrome and anxiety disorder tied to the illness, and he was again rated 80% disabled.
Within three years, however, VA raters had marked him 100% disabled, thanks partly to Barton’s claims of worsening post-traumatic stress disorder tied to combat service. He also received benefits for urinary incontinence, dry-eye syndrome, paralysis in both legs, facial droop, and erectile dysfunction.
Barton’s downfall began in 2019, when VA officials received a tip that the former medic had become a competitive weightlifter, and the agency’s Office of Inspector General began probing his disability claims.
Iraqi army soldiers conduct training on Nov. 6, 2010, with members of 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade. US Army Photo by Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger.
On June 18, 2019, agents ran surveillance on Barton’s PTSD appointment at West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. He hobbled in with a cane and struggled to sit in chairs. He claimed during the session that he went to the gym merely to socialize and “lift some 5-pound dumbbells,” but he struggled to forge relationships there because of “all the people he lost” in the military.
For an Aug. 7, 2019, appointment at the Florida center to review his incontinence claim, he arrived in a diaper. When a doctor asked him to hold a small book in his hand, Barton dropped it and claimed he couldn’t muster the strength to retrieve it from the floor.
When the physician asked how he was able to retain so much muscle mass, Barton answered, “I guess I have good genetics.”
For another appointment to review his dry-eye condition, Barton removed his hat and glasses, bent over to adjust his shoe, and then dressed without discomfort, using the right arm and right shoulder he told VA were barely movable because of pain.
Soldiers in 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Division-Center, attend a combat awards ceremony, Oct. 1, 2010, at Camp Taji, Iraq. US Army photo by Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger.
In reality, Barton was boasting online about lifting more than 400 pounds in weights.
In a 2021 undercover federal sting, an agent recorded Barton at Flex Gym & Fitness boasting he’d been a “gym rat” for years and that his weightlifting training session was about to get “grueling.”
He'd also never seen combat during his deployment to Iraq that began in late 2009. According to his plea agreement, he admitted to making up wartime stories to boost PTSD disability payments.
But he insisted he'd taken only $75,903.84 in unearned benefits.
That lower amount was important because federal sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence between six and 12 months.
Barton’s attorney didn’t respond to Coffee or Die Magazine's messages seeking comment.
The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center opened its doors on June 26, 1995, and provides primary- and secondary-level health care to eligible veterans in a seven-county area along Florida’s Treasure Coast. US Department of Veterans Affairs photo.
Prosecutors disagreed with Barton’s math, which they said was off the second he left the Army.
They pointed to Barton receiving a VA disability rating of 50% for PTSD claims shortly after his discharge. When Barton appeared to be improving, the VA dropped it to 30%.
It was only after Barton fraudulently exaggerated his symptoms and the cause of his mental illness that the VA raised it to 70% in 2017 and 100% four years after that, they argued.
By that time, Barton claimed he was depressed. He couldn’t sleep, work, or keep social relationships. He insisted he forgot directions, names, and recent events. He also claimed to suffer weekly panic attacks, problems federal agents said were lies.
The judge agreed with prosecutors and ordered Barton to repay the full $245,932.52.
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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