Jul 3, 2009

Support Veterans Always

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy. ... They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby (1925), condemning hubris and disrespect -

Were he alive today, Fitzgerald could be describing the Department of Justice and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under George W. Bush. For that matter all the warmakers and chickenhawks who turn their backs on the people who fight these ridiculous wars.

Those two are for us to clean up now.

This Independence Day weekend is dedicated to jailed Wisconsin veteran Keith Roberts, and the Vietnam-era veterans that the American rightwing to this day treats like dirt.

Roberts is an honorably discharged Vietnam-era veteran jailed and effectively fined some $500,000 because he blew the whistle on fraud committed against his veteran's Claim File and insisted on getting his disability benefits paid back to his date of discharge.

Not a popular thing to do under the reckless Bush-led VA and the Bush DOJ that had morphed into hostile, uncaring creatures.

Now, cautious optimism defines the feeling among supporters of jailed veteran Keith Roberts.

Optimism because Keith Roberts—an innocent Vietnam-era veteran wrongfully jailed through a Bush DOJ prosecution—has been granted a rare en banc hearing before seven members of the national veterans court, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), for the appeal of his 13-years-long claim. Recently scheduled oral arguments are set for July 29.

Anxiety because Roberts, who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after seeing his friend, Gary Holland, crushed to death by a C-54 aircraft, and his family were relentlessly pursued by the Bush Department of Justice and Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA) for Roberts’ “tenaciously pursuing a claim for benefits” and Roberts' whistle-blowing accusations that the VA was fraudulently altering his C-file, records containing documents related to his VA claims.

U.S. Atty Stephen Biskupic's office had convinced a jury that Roberts and a deceased Navy airman (Gary Holland) were not friends. That was the basis for the prosecution along with the allegation that Roberts exaggerated his efforts to save Holland, which constituted wire fraud for which he was convicted in November 2006 by a jury in northern Wisconsin.Roberts was on line duty at a Naval base in Naples, Italy on February 5, 1969 at the time that Holland was crushed to death by the aircraft.The two men had parallel service histories that would make it unlikely that Holland and Roberts were not at least friendly in their relationship, and that contradicts the prosecution’s indictment and trial statements.

Writes Scott Horton in Harpers Magazine (Sept 7, 2007):

The prosecution smacks of retaliation and a plan to suppress veterans claims—Roberts was prosecuted for tenaciously pursuing a claim for benefits, which VA resisted and which is still in the benefits review process.

On appeal, Roberts' criminal conviction for wire fraud was upheld last year with the Court opinion reading in part:

The record might also have supported a jury determination that Mr. Roberts sincerely believed that his statements were true and that he had no intention to defraud the Government. It is beyond our authority to disturb such a finding on appeal.

VA Shreds Veterans

Roberts was an early whistle blower in the shreddergate veterans scandal, accusing the Milwaukee VA Regional Office of destroying documents in his file and engaging in fraud as the VA was in the process of determining the date from which his retroactive disability pay was to become effective.Roberts, of Gillett, Wisconsin, sought a new retroactive date per the advice of his Shawano County (Wisconsin) Veteran’s Service Officer.

Anger and frustration with the VA drove Keith Roberts to phone the VA Inspector General’s regional office at Hines, Illinois in November 2003 to complain.

Roberts spoke with one VA Special Agent Raymond Vasil.When he accused the VA of outright fraud in November 2003, Vasil retaliated against this Vietnam-era who had reportedly become a pain to the VA regional office.Several VA e-mails point to top officials in the VA engineering a criminal prosecution while gaming the veteran’s VA benefits adjudication, and subsequently putatively financially assaulting the veteran’s family.

Roberts is but one victim of a stacked-against-the-veteran benefits system that was the subject of an unprecedented class action law suit by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that found as fact benefits-hostile practices at the VA.Exercising an utter lack of prosecutorial discretion, the U.S. Atty after prodding from U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials began the bizarre prosecution that drew immediate fire from veterans’ groups, such as Colonel Daniel K. Cedusky’s, AUS, (Ret.) and the American Legion.

Adding insult to injury, the VA also began immediate collection actions against the veteran and his two young daughters who had received education benefits related to their father’s service in the Navy, though Roberts' claim is still pending to this day at CAVC.What prompted the U.S. Atty’s office was a puzzle to many readers who have followed the case of Roberts who has been serving 48 months in a federal prison since 2007, as well as incurring associated costs of some $500,000.

But Keith Roberts was indisputably a major political and legal target of the VA that retaliated against this veteran for seeking retroactive PTSD-related disability benefits and calling out the VA on altering his C-file, a practice that was found to occur in 41 of the 57 VA field offices which have now adopted new procedures to preserve records such as what Roberts complained about in November 2003.

Politicalization under Bush

Revealing the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of the case is the fact that if Roberts claim is affirmed by CAVC, Roberts will have been found guilty of receiving benefits which he was found to be entitled.

In August 2005, the VA announced plans to review 72,000 PTSD cases with a 100 percent disability ratings like Roberts’.

But a torrent of criticism by veterans’ groups and Democrats forced the Bush administration to back down.

On August 10, 2005 Sen. Barrack Obama (D-IL) blasted the administration in a letter to then VA Secretary Nicholson.

In order to truly create fairness in the claims system, the VA should concentrate its efforts on reviewing denials of PTSD claims. Without assessing why some PTSD claims are denied, it will be impossible to fully understand how the VA’s PTSD rating system can be improved.

The process of gathering evidence to prove PTSD disability is extremely time-consuming. 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.

Now many veterans' advocates are optimistic that under President Obama a change will come in how the VA treats its veterans in the face of a hostile and selfish entrenched bureaucracy.

There is now a political will from the administration to respect veterans.

There are plenty of candidates for condemnation in this affair where the environment persists that agencies of the U.S. government usurped by the Bush administration lacking in conscience and public accountability, politicized virtually every agency in sight, including former U.S. Atty Biskupic’s office.

- Special Agent Raymond Vasil of the regional VA Inspector General’s office [“A cop Vasil is not, just an idiot with a badge,” said one veteran assisting Roberts] who lied to and vocally mocked Roberts while flying around the country fabricating a case against Roberts.

- The VA benefits process that systemically wears down veterans with the apparent intention of inducing them to give up their fight for benefits [this process is being adjudicated in the unprecedented class action suit by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.] In fact, the VA claims process can be so frustrating that many vets (especially those suffering from PTSD) are thrown into fits of rage directed at the VA itself.

- The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that demeans veterans for seeking help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in this “culture of trauma”·

- The Pentagon that blames veterans “personality disorders” and lack of faith in God for veterans suffering after service.

But veterans advocates and Roberts' many supporters remain optimistic.

See also:

- Weakening us criminal case, VA turns down jailed Wisc vet’s PTSD claim
- Jailed Wisconsin Veteran Sent to Solitary Confinement, Seeks Help
- VA attacks veteran
- National VA Director Pushed US Atty Biskupic to Indict Wisconsin ...

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