Back in February I shared the story of how myself and TONS of other military veterans & legitimate vet organizations were tricked by Sarah Cavanaugh, a Veteran Affairs (VA) social worker who was pretending to be a Marine combat veteran with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star that was dying of cancer at only 31 years old.
,...but only after scamming countless in the mil/vet community out of an estimated $250,000+.
Aside from the money, this "hero" had been collecting actual VA benefits, went on free trips, gave speeches about battles she was in, got free physical therapy, groceries, and home repairs, took advantage of many incredible opportunities meant for vets, and was even a VFW Post Commander. In reality she had never served a single day in her life.
Back when the news initially broke & we were posting about it on ZBT, my DMs were filled with people (rightfully) asking how this could happen.
"How could all of you - so many other vets - not realize she was a fake?"
One of the answers to that is becoming clear following her arraignment yesterday, because -UPDATE - that bitcc got arrested and charged with 'wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and related offenses'.
The investigation shows Cavanaugh went to incredible lengths to appear legitimate and had become adept at faking paperwork. Here's a summary of the allegations from the Rhode Island Attorney's Office:
-Cavanaugh used the personal identifying information of an actual Marine, and falsely claimed that she served in the USMC from 2009-2016; was honorably discharged; achieved the rank of Corporal; and was wounded in action in Iraq/Afghanistan.
-Cavanaugh used an official Veterans Administration (VA) email account, which was issued to her as a VA employee, to purchase and later display on a Marine uniform a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
-Created and submitted falsified military discharge documents, medical diagnosis, and medical bills to “HunterSeven,” an organization that provides monetary aid to veterans in need. Cavanaugh did so to request financial assistance and falsely claim that she was being treated for cancer from exposure to burn pits in Iraq/Afghanistan and inhaling particulate matter in the aftermath of an Improvised Explosive Device.
-Posing as a combat veteran, Cavanaugh contacted “Code of Support,” and collected $18,472 in financial assistance for mortgage payments, repairs to her home furnace, a gym membership, and for other unspecified bills,
-Posing as a combat veteran diagnosed with cancer related to her military service, Cavanaugh collected approximately $4,700 from an internet-based fundraising website,
-Claiming to be a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, Cavanaugh collected approximately $16,000 from a charity that provides therapy for veterans through art programs, and
-Posing as a wounded combat veteran, Cavanaugh collected $207,000 from the Wounded Warrior organization to pay for groceries and physical therapy sessions.
Whew… Hundreds of thousands of dollars and she never even had to scrub a single latrine while getting yelled at or crap in a wag bag in sweltering 120 degree heat to get it.
I can't comprehend how she could she sit there with people volunteering their time to fix her freaking home furnace and look them in the eye. Have to say I was shocked by the over $200K from Wounded Warrior, one of the biggest names in the game. And that 'therapy through art programs' was no small deal; CreatiVets reached out to tell me they enrolled her in arts programs at USC, flew her to Nashville to share her story with top songwriters, etc.. Wild. A lot of people put a lot of selfless time, effort & valuable resources to help someone who was secretly doing just fine.
Finances aside, many of those left in her wake are still reeling emotionally.
One vet at first DMed to (very kindly) tell me I must have the story all wrong, because he had personally driven her to chemo appointments, had seen her DD214 paperwork, and had met 'her father' who confirmed her service. He also highlighted all the good things she'd done at the VFW post.
A few days later after more of the story came out he wrote back saying he felt so betrayed. He's someone who does a lot of good in the vet community, as does that post, and my heart broke for him. He said the entire post feels "like someone broke into our house".
Chelsey Simoni, Executive Director of the Hunter Seven Foundation told CBS Boston,
“I was in pain for her. I listened to her, everything a nurse should do,” she said. “She not only abused that, she took my compassion and lied. Meanwhile we could have put our services elsewhere. That’s what bothers me.”
One of the grossest parts of all is that she made up a story about having a Marine twin brother who died in the war AND being sexually assaulted by her commander to keep people from asking too many questions and digging too deep. But the story was so bizarre that thankfully the Marine she lied to, Major Thomas Schueman of PB Abbate, did the legwork that began to crack her story open.
“She told me about her injury recoveries; how she was medically retired as a staff sergeant, and then how a couple of years ago she said she was coughing and that she started to cough up blood, so she went to the doctor, and that she had had Stage IV lung cancer and that it spread to her bones and her brain and that she had anywhere from one to two years left of life, based on the timeline that the doctor gave her, because it was not curable at that point, only treatable,” Schueman said.
Schueman was incredibly moved by her story and began the process to try to hire her. Apparently, her story began to unravel after Shueman and his organization looked into her credentials.
Cavanaugh told him her twin brother was killed in Iraq and buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
These are two details that would be easy to verify.
When someone from Patrol Base Abbate went to Arlington to verify, the gravesite was for a Marine killed that was not related to Cavanaugh.
“She said: ‘Oh, I was court-martialed before I got out of the Marine Corps because I was being sexually assaulted by my commanding officer on ship and I shot him as he attempted to sexually assault me,’” Schueman said. “And I’m like ‘OK.’ So, she said: ‘I got reduced two ranks.’”
An enlisted Marine shooting her commanding officer for assaulting them is something that'd be national news. We'd be talking about it on ZBT forever. And it's for sure not something that's just resolved by someone getting demoted a couple ranks.
I think vet Chelsey Simoni of HunterSeven summed it up best:
Simoni said her group is currently helping a 32-year-old Marine Corps and Army Special Forces veteran who is fighting a very aggressive form of pancreatic cancer related to his military experience.
“I received his case around the same time I received Sarah Cavanaugh’s,” Simoni said. “For her to take away that time from our team to focus on her bullshit instead of helping this young, selfless serving, special operations, police officer, father of two, husband, amazing man — instead of spending our time helping him, getting him those second opinions, getting him to where he needs to be with lifesaving treatment, we wasted time on this fucking asshole.”
Cavanaugh is indeed a fucking asshole, and I hope justice is served.