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As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary today, veterans mobilized on behalf of jailed Air Force vet Keith Roberts, indicted and convicted by the controversial US Atty Stephen Biskupic.
In several e-mail trees, the veterans urged veterans and supporters to phone members of the Judiciary Committee questioning Gonzales on the recent firings of US Attys, and what US Attys who had kept their jobs may have done to remain in their positions.
Critics and watchdog groups accuse the Bush administration of the unprecedented politicalization of government, including the Department of Justice and the Veterans Administration (VA), and see the indictment and conviction of Roberts on charges of wire fraud as a consequence of this politicalization.
The vets hit Rep. Tammy Baldwin's (D-Wis) office especially hard, as they perceive her as the only Wisconsin member of the Judiciary Committee known as a champion of veterans’ issues.
The veterans’ e-mail reads in part:
“This is important. I need each of you to act today.... read this
“Urge Rep. Baldwin and your member of the Judiciary Committee to ask AG Gonzales about the Jailed Vet Keith Roberts.
“We want Keith Roberts Freed, and US Atty Stephen Biskupic Fired.
“Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is returning to Capitol Hill on Thursday to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.
“Many Uppity Wisconsin readers know that Airman Keith Roberts (1968-74) is battling political forces allied with VA Sec. Jim Nicholson whose department worked with US Atty Stephen Biskupic, WI, to imprison this Vietnam-ear vet for 48 months on a ludicrous charge of wire fraud, now under appeal.
“Please contact Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) (now a member of the House Committee on the Judiciary ) http://judiciary.house.gov/CommitteeMembership.aspx
and urge her to seek all documents in this affair and ask Gonzales about Airman Roberts’ indictments.
Rep. Baldwin can be reached at: (202) 225-2906.
Wisconsin Public Radio
In other developments, Wisconsin Public Radio ran a piece produced by Gil Halstad on the Roberts case.
Vietnam vet calls fraud charges by VA illegal
Vietnam vet calls fraud charges by VA illegal
By Gil Halsted
Thursday, May 10, 2007
(UNDATED) A Vietnam-era veteran from Oconto County is appealing his conviction for wire fraud.
Sixty-year-old Keith Roberts claims the Veterans Administration illegally cut off his benefits. Some veterans’ advocates say the case is part of a broader effort by the Bush Administration to discourage veterans from seeking retroactive benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 1999, Keith Roberts was diagnosed with PTSD. He convinced the VA that the condition was triggered in 1969, when he saw a fellow airman crushed to death in the wheel well of an airplane at a U.S. base in Italy. Roberts’ wife Delores says several months later, her husband got drunk and got in a fight with military police. She says he was assaulted by the Shore Patrol, put in a straitjacket, put in a psychiatric ward, strapped to the bed and given two injections of thorazine.
The VA initially granted Roberts benefits retroactive to 1992, but he pushed for benefits back to 1972 when he was discharged from the Navy. Timothy Funnel, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Roberts for fraud, says that was a mistake. Funnel says trying to get more benefits triggered an investigation that refuted Roberts’ PTSD claims and resulted in his fraud conviction. He says 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.
Roberts is in a Kenosha jail, waiting transfer to a federal prison to serve four years for fraud. He’s also in debt for $300,000 dollars in VA assistance, and $15,000 dollars in tuition benefits his daughter used towards a college degree. Delores Roberts says since her husband’s conviction, the family has been struggling. She says his Social Security benefits were cut off after he’d been in jail for a month, so that meant they had nothing coming in.
Roberts’ lawyer, Robert Walsh, says he’s confident that will change when he wins his appeal, but Walsh says that won’t address the fundamental injustice of prosecuting Roberts for trying to get money he was legally eligible to receive. Walsh says when the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims restores VA disability benefits to Mr. Roberts, as he’s confident they will, he asks who will restore Roberts’ reputation and will restore the more than 100 days he has served in confinement illegally. Walsh says that’s a serious concern and should be of concern to the veterans’ community.
Madison writer Michael Leon has taken up Roberts’ cause. After reading more than 2,000 pages of legal documents, Leon says prosecutors illegally ignored the required procedures for VA benefits. Leon says the VA hopes to use Roberts as an example. He says with the agency having so many problems currently, they cannot have numerous Vietnam-era veterans seeking retroactive benefits for PTSD. He says it they did, there would be thousands people “lining up.”
More than 800,000 Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD and a study released this week shows the VA is spending about four billion dollars a year on PTSD benefits.
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Rep. Tammy Baldwin
Coming soon here, Rep. Baldwin’s questioning of Attorney General Gonzales and her reaction to the Keith Roberts affair.
Early reports have Baldwin asking Gonzales about US Atty Biskupic and asking that a New York Times article written by Adam Cohen, "A Woman Wrongly Convicted and a U.S. Attorney Who Kept His Job" be submitted into the record.
One question asked by Baldwin is: “Did USA Biskupic get his name off the firing list by conducting a partisan investigation?" in reference to the discredited Georgia Thompson prosecution thrown out of an appeals court and widely seen as dealing US Atty Biskupic a death blow to his credibility as a non-partisan prosecutor.