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Rep. Cooley Asks VA to Probe Allegations of Benefits Fraud

May 3, 1996

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ U.S. Rep. Wes Cooley said Thursday he has asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate allegations that his wife may have fraudulently collected veterans benefits.

Cooley, R-Ore., said the VA would look into the matter, which was first reported in The Oregonian on April 26. The agency has refused to say whether it was investigating.

``I am pleased that the Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed, at my request, to inquire into this matter,″ Cooley said in a prepared statement.

``My wife and I vehemently deny that any funds were fraudulently obtained from the government and trust that the department’s inquiry will vindicate us completely.″

At issue is whether Rosemary Herron Cooley improperly collected military benefits after the death of her first husband, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. Capt. Perry Herron died in a plane crash in 1965.

Federal law prohibits veterans’ survivors from continuing to draw benefits after they remarry or if they live with someone as husband and wife.

Cooley refuses to say when he and his wife were married, although he maintains that his wife notified the agency of her impending marriage prior to their wedding.

Cooley said his lawyer, John DiLorenzo, met with VA officials Thursday and turned over documents contradicting the allegations, including copies of canceled checks showing that his wife promptly returned to the VA all widow’s benefits received after she made the marriage notification.

The VA, citing privacy laws, would not reveal how much Rosemary Cooley received in benefits. But a newspaper estimated the total using public records and interviews with the Cooleys’ acquaintances.

The Bulletin of Bend, Ore., estimated that Rosemary Cooley may have collected more than $140,000 in survivor’s benefits during the 17-years in which she and Wes Cooley lived together.

Wes Cooley and Beverly Charbonneau were divorced in 1976. Charbonneau said Cooley and Herron moved in together shortly after the divorce, and two sources confirmed her account, The Bulletin said.

The Bulletin based its estimates on Perry Herron’s pay grade and VA compensation schedules. Benefits are thought to have ended at the end of 1993.

Friends have said they attended the couple’s wedding in California that December. However, several acquaintances, including a state representative, a delivery company employee and a contractor, told The Bulletin they had the impression the Cooleys had been married since at least the mid-1980s.

``Rosemary never referred to herself as Herron,″ said state Rep. Lynn Lundquist, R-Powell Butte. ``I understood them to be married. I’ve never seen them in another capacity.″

Living together and sharing expenses doesn’t necessarily disqualify beneficiaries, but if a couple presents themselves to the public as married, that would disqualify a widow or widower, said Tom Furukawa, a spokesman for the VA’s regional office in Portland.

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