The VA is investigating a woman accused of stolen valor who, officials have confirmed, is employed as a social worker for the department. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
The woman accused of passing herself off as a decorated Marine Corps combat veteran suffering from stage 4 cancer is now being investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she is employed as a social worker.
Veterans groups say Sarah Cavanaugh faked a combat-heavy military history for years, pushing the deception far enough to be named the commander of a Rhode Island Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The ruse finally crumbled this week after a former Marine saw her photo on an Instagram post and started asking questions.
A spokesman for the Providence VA Medical Center in Rhode Island confirmed to Coffee or Die Magazine Thursday, Feb. 3, that Cavanaugh is “currently employed as a social worker” at the facility.
“VA Providence Health Care System takes every allegation of fraud and stolen valor seriously and was immediately made aware of the current situation involving Ms. Sarah Cavanaugh,” public affairs officer John J. Loughlin II wrote in an email.
Loughlin told Coffee or Die the matter had been referred to VA police and the Office of Inspector General. Both are currently investigating.
Loughlin did not specify how long Cavanaugh has worked at that location. However, according to online databases, Cavanaugh received her National Provider Identifier (NPI) in April 2016 and listed the Providence VA as her primary practice address. An NPI is a number assigned to covered health care providers to use in administrative transactions under HIPAA.
Cavanaugh claimed on a resume to have worked as a “caregiver support program coordinator” at the center from June 2016 to the present. Among her duties, she listed, “Coordinate and participate in direct Caregiver and Veteran contacts, such as home visits, face to face appointments and telephone calls.”
Cavanaugh appears to have represented herself as a Marine Corps combat veteran since at least 2019. She also told multiple veterans organizations she suffered from service-related stage 4 cancer.
Coffee or Die obtained copies of the VA medical records Cavanaugh allegedly used to back up her cancer claims. The documents include the names of multiple doctors affiliated with the VA, as well as extensive details about a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Attempts to reach Cavanaugh by phone and email this week were unsuccessful.
Cavanaugh’s military story started to fall apart in late January, after the toxic exposure research and advocacy organization HunterSeven Foundation shared her story and cancer diagnosis on Instagram.
Some of HunterSeven’s followers noticed discrepancies in her uniform in the picture that accompanied the post. As the organization dug deeper, executive director Chelsey Simoni learned that the DD Form 214 Separation Document and other records Cavanaugh had provided were fake.
Simoni said HunterSeven was able to stop payment on an initial check to Cavanaugh, and that the woman had not received any money from the group. The foundation has now refunded donors who contributed money to its immediate needs program in Cavanaugh’s name, Simoni said.
On Monday, Cavanaugh resigned as commander of VFW Post 152 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. A spokesman for the VFW said the organization is actively investigating the stolen valor allegations.
Editor’s note: Coffee or Die Magazine is owned by Black Rifle Coffee Company, which has donated to HunterSeven Foundation.
Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.
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