|"Statement in Support of Claim," written by |
the late Jim Henning, a Shawano County
(Wisconsin) Veteran’s Service Officer
The document, a VA “Statement in Support of Claim,” written by the late Jim Henning, a Shawano County (Wisconsin) Veteran’s Service Officer, argues for an earlier retroactive date for disability benefits for Airman Keith Roberts (1968-74), who was diagnosed by several medical professionals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after witnessing a fellow airman being crushed to death in the wheel well of a C-54 airplane at a U.S. base in Naples, Italy in 1969.
Henning was known as a passionate and highly ethical advocate for veterans.
The document is key because the prosecuting attorney, Timothy Funnell of the US Eastern District of Wisconsin, has repeatedly portrayed Roberts as engaging in a “scheme” to “fraudulently” obtain VA benefits motivated by greed.
“Mr. Roberts would in all likelihood be sitting in Oconto County receiving his monthly compensation benefit check if he had not, because of his own greed, sought this large retroactive payment, “said Funnell on a Wisconsin Public Radio news segment. (Vietnam vet calls fraud charges by VA illegal, 05/10/07, Listen to this story now using RealPlayer)
The document (dated March 15, 2002) supports Roberts’ narrative that he did not concoct a “scheme” to seek an earlier retroactive date, but rather sought an earlier date at Hennings’ suggestion.
“Keith Roberts did not seek out an earlier effective date on his own. Mr. Jim Henning, (now deceased) Shawano County Veteran's Service Officer, reviewed Keith’s claims folder and determined that Keith was entitled to an earlier effective date. Mr. Henning was the person that wrote the March 2002 Statement in Support of (C)laim for Keith. … (T)he statement gave (the) VA an opportunity to pick any date listed as the earlier effective date,” reads an e-mail from Roberts’ wife, Deloris.
Henning’s letter (signed by Roberts, but in Henning’s handwriting, as verified by other obtained handwritten correspondence by Henning written on August 14, 2002 on an unrelated matter) supports reopening Roberts’ case for both an earlier retroactive date and an increase from 50 percent to 100 percent disability benefits.
Henning’s handwritten VA statement (which includes Henning’s listing of an incorrect Social Security Number of Roberts’) reads in part:
”The records indicate the the (sic) veteran filed a statement of case in an appeal dated December 22, 1993 which shows a complaint dating back to 12/13/69. A letter from the VA dated Nay 29, 1998 assigned a 50% rating for PTSD, It would appear that a 50% rating would be more appropriately assigned earlier effect (illegible word) 1989. (Based on the Bay Claims report mentioned above.).”
The Bay Claims reference is to a letter of November 1, 1989 which includes progress notes and diagnoses from Dr. Kenneth L. Kliese, M.D. of the Bay Psychiatric Clinic, Green Bay, WI.
Dr. Kliese is among several doctors who diagnosed Roberts with a multitude of psychiatric disorders and symptoms relating to PTSD.
As Roberts was adjudicating his claim with the VA, after Roberts had accused the VA of fraudulently handling his claims in 2003, Stephen Biskupic, US Atty for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, in an extraordinary development, stepped in 2005 and secured federal indictments and a conviction of Roberts on charges of wire fraud in obtaining over $350,000 for the period of 1992 to 2004.
Critics see Roberts as an innocent victim—a poster boy and cautionary tale—of a VA bureaucracy determined to deter PTSD claims from Vietnam vets, rightwing forces allied with VA Secretary Nicholson, and an overzealous prosecutor.
This exculpatory Henning document was not presented at trial.
“Again, never entered at (t)rial. This was a railroad job from the get go including Keith’s court appointed attorney. He never presented one piece of information from Keith’s VA C-file records. He flat out refused to do it, he told Keith that no jury would convict him on the evidence, that may have been so, but the jury did (convict Robets) because no evidence favorable to Keith was ever presented,” e-mailed Delores Roberts.
The VA demands rigorous documentation to prove a stressor causing PTSD.
“The process of gathering evidence to prove PTSD disability is extremely time-consuming,” said Sen. Barrack Obama (D-IL) on August 10, 2005 at a time when the VA was set to review 72,000 PTSD cases, but backed down under intense pressure from veterans and democrats. “It requires the compilation of medical records, military service records, and testimonies from other veterans who can attest to a person’s combat exposure. I cannot fathom why the VA would require veterans to go through this emotionally painful process a second time.”
But Roberts was able to prove to several medial professionals his condition of PTSD and to the VA, until he accused the VA of fraud.
“So again, I state, if VA says they based his grant in 1998 upon ‘stressors’ what the hell is going on, why is my husband in prison,” said Deloris Roberts.