from the United States District Court for the District of
Colorado (D.C. No. 1:16-CR-00111-JLK-1)
L. Hayes, Attorney at Law, Laramie, Wyoming, for
R. Dunn, United States Attorney, J. Bishop Grewell, Assistant
United States Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for
BRISCOE, PHILLIPS, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.
PHILLIPS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
matter if a veteran lies about having served overseas? Yes,
if the veteran lies to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
to get undeserved benefits under 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f)(2)
for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We
reject Williams's argument that his lie was not material
under 18 U.S.C. §1001(a)(2), as well as his two
challenges to evidentiary rulings. Exercising jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.
Williams, Sr. is a veteran of the United States Army, who
spent his entire service stateside-never overseas or in
combat. But for years, based on his false statements about
combat service, he obtained VA benefits for combat-related
during a review of his eligibility for benefits, the VA began
to question Williams's accounts of his combat service.
The VA's doubts arose after reviewing Williams's
medical records, which revealed that he had made inconsistent
statements regarding the nature of his alleged deployment. He
had told one VA medical provider about serving in Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba from August 2004 to April 2005 and in Afghanistan
from May 2005 to June 2006. But he had told two other VA
providers about serving in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 for two
three-month stints, never mentioning having served in Cuba or
Afghanistan. Recognizing that Williams's claimed foreign
service was also unsupported by his military records, the VA
proposed to decrease his benefits by severing the service
connection to his PTSD diagnosis. For some reason, Williams
challenged that proposal, maintaining that he was entitled to
his previously awarded benefits for combat-related PTSD.
set Williams's challenge for an informal hearing before
Alana Bucheit, a VA Decision Review Officer. The Review
Officer's preliminary review of Mr. Williams's
military records revealed nothing to support his claim of
overseas or combat service. Even so, in August 2014 the
Review Officer held the informal hearing.
testifying at the informal hearing, Williams claimed to have
served in Iraq from May to September 2007. This statement
underlies his charge and conviction under 18 U.S.C.
§1001(a)(2). Interrelatedly, though not charged in the
indictment, Williams further testified that he had been
stationed at Camp Taji, outside Baghdad; that he had been
deployed there twice as a casualty replacement; that while
there he had been exposed to the enemy's improvised
explosive devices and had to clean blood from an attacked
Humvee; and that these experiences had caused his PTSD. At
the hearing, Williams was the sole witness, but he provided
the Review Officer with a "buddy statement," a
letter from a fellow veteran claiming to have served with
Williams in Iraq.R. Vol. III at 321. At the hearing, the
Review Officer questioned Williams about the lack of any
deployment entries in his military records and asked whether
he would consider trying to have his records corrected to
show his service in Iraq. Williams declined, professing to
have lost trust in the military and the VA.
the hearing, the Review Officer continued to investigate
Williams's account of being deployed to Iraq. She
directed another VA employee to contact the Joint Services
Records Research Center (JSRRC) to confirm that Williams had
been assigned to the casualty-replacement unit and served
with it in Iraq. As the Review Officer later described at the
criminal trial, the JSRRC has "access to the command
chronologies that [VA employees] don't have access
to" and "can research to try [to] confirm reported
events." Id. at 332. The JSRRC also refuted
Williams's testimony. In fact, his military records
showed that at the very time he claimed to have been serving
in Iraq, he was being treated at Madigan Army Medical Center
in Fort Lewis, Washington.
2015, almost a year after the informal hearing, Review
Officer Bucheit upheld the VA's proposal to reduce
Williams's benefits, finding that he lacked a service
connection for his claimed combat-related PTSD. She then
followed her customary practice and shredded her notes from
the informal hearing with Williams.
March 2016, a grand jury sitting in the District of Colorado
charged Williams in a single-count indictment with violating
18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). The charged conduct was
Williams's false statement to the Review Officer about
having served in Iraq from May to September 2007. The
indictment did not charge any of several other similar
statements he had made to other VA representatives.
case proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of the
government's case, Williams moved for a judgment of
acquittal, arguing that the government had presented
insufficient evidence of materiality. The district court
denied this motion. The jury found Williams guilty, and the
district court sentenced him to five years' probation.
Williams timely appealed.
appeal, Williams challenges his conviction on three grounds:
(1) that the government presented insufficient evidence of
materiality; (2) that the district court violated his Fifth
and Sixth Amendment rights by disallowing testimony from his
two listed expert witnesses; and (3) that the district court
abused its discretion by admitting into evidence some of
Williams's earlier false statements to the VA that the
Army had deployed him overseas.
Williams's False Statement at the VA Hearing Was
Material, and the District Court Did Not Err in Denying
Williams's Motion for Acquittal
appeal, Williams does not dispute making the false statement
about serving in Iraq. Rather, he challenges its materiality. He
argues that under 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f)(2), the Review
Officer could rely only on military records to determine
whether he had served in Iraq. For this reason, he contends
that his testimony on that point could not be material to the
benefits decision. From this, Williams argues that the
district court erred by not granting his motion for
acquittal, reasoning that ...