PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Sarah Cavanaugh is well-known within Rhode Island’s military community.
Cavanaugh has told numerous nonprofit organizations that she served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and has even touted herself as a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
The only problem is, she’s never accomplished any of those things.
The U.S. Marine Corps tells 12 News they were unable to locate a record for Sarah Cavanaugh, or for the Social Security Number on the military document she provided.
Over the years, Cavanaugh has connected with a number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping veterans who, at first, all welcomed her with open arms.
Tom Schueman, president of Patrol Base Abbate, tells 12 News that when he first met Cavanaugh, he had no reason to doubt her story, adding that she even told him she was suffering from lung cancer.
“She’s telling me about how she went to the oncologist and the oncologist did a scan of her lungs and it was the metallic particles from her IED blasts and burn pits that gave her the lung cancer,” Schueman recalled.
Cavanaugh went on two retreats with the organization, according to Schueman, before he started looking further into the information she provided in her military paperwork.
After asking around, Schueman said it became immediately clear to him that Cavanaugh wasn’t telling the truth.
“The entire principal of our organization is to bring people together and connect them and to build that trust between veterans,” Schueman said. “When that’s exploited … it’s hurtful.”
Patrol Base Abbate isn’t the only organization that Cavanaugh has lied to either, according to Schueman.
“It’s an entire identity that she has created,” he said.
Cavanaugh served as the commander of VFW Post 152 for more than a year before resigning from her position on Monday.
A spokesperson for the VFW tells 12 News the organization “takes allegations of stolen valor seriously” and they’re actively investigating Cavanaugh, “to include reexamining the original documentation submitted for membership eligibility.”
The Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services said confirms a federal investigation has also been opened.
“Lying about military service is dishonorable; many brave men and women in uniform – as well as their families – have sacrificed so much in service to our country,” a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services said.
The Providence VA tells 12 News Cavanaugh is currently employed there as a social worker, and that they’re also taking a closer look at her paperwork.
12 News has attempted to reach out to Cavanaugh several times for comment but has not heard back.