Jul 27, 2015

Wisconsin Veteran Waiting for Justice, and Claim from Veterans Appellate Board

U.S. Navy Airman Keith Roberts (1968-71)
Keith A. Roberts is a former U.S. Navy airman who served honorably from 1968-1971 during the Vietnam War era.

Roberts of Gillett, Wisconsin worked on line duty on February 4, 1969 at a Navy airbase in Naples, Italy and—as did all men on duty—tried to save the life of Airman Gary Holland who was being crushed to a death by a C-54 aircraft in a tragic, life-altering accident for both men.

Adding gross insult to injury, Roberts was pursued by top VA and DoJ officials in 2004-05 and indicted and convicted of wire fraud on the basis that he and Airman Holland were not friends, a bizarre indictment.

Roberts and Holland had parallel military careers as young airmen, training and serving together at several military facilities from 1968-1969. Both men served as engine mechanics.

At the deadly accident scene in 1969 Holland lay pinned by the nose wheel while Roberts tried frantically to move the wheel of this transport craft off of Holland, issuing orders to military superiors who Roberts felt were more concerned about the aircraft than his friend.

In May 1998, this Vietnam-era veteran was awarded benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), though Roberts had to navigate the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) bureaucracy that made 'proving' the circumstances associated with filing a PTSD disability claim difficult at best.

Keith A. Roberts later prevailed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) (which has exclusive jurisdiction over VA claims) on April 23, 2010 [Roberts v. Shinseki, 23 Vet. App. 416, (2010)]. That case started in 2003. As of July 28, 2015, his benefits have not been restored as ordered by the CAVC.

What happened to this veteran?

Roberts was "prosecuted [by US Attorney Steven M. Biskupic (later attorney for Scott Walker's political campaign)] for tenaciously pursuing a claim for benefits, which VA resisted and which is still in the benefits review process" (Horton, Harper's Magazine), after Roberts followed the advice of his local Shawno County (Wisconsin) Veterans Service Officer and asked the VA for an earlier retroactive date for his claim.

Roberts was targeted by top U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs (DVA) officials who conspired with the U.S. Dept of Justice under the Bush-Cheney administration in 2004-05 in an effort to discourage Vietnam War-era veterans from filing for disability benefits (Mal Contends) (Mal Contends).

The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin said that Holland and Roberts were not friends, and Roberts who was on line duty at the base at the time of Holland's death exaggerated his efforts to save Holland. That's the basis for the 2004-05 indictment (four counts of wire fraud) that Biskupic said is an elaborate scheme by Roberts.

Roberts spent four years in a federal prison for a crime CAVC conceded he did not commit (one cannot commit benefits fraud if one were then and is now entitled to a 100 percent veterans disability benefits rating).

A new hope

Roberts is still awaiting ultimate disposition of his disability claim, amid new developments: An increased appreciation for PTSD after President Obama's administration changed the PTSD disability claim regulations (White House), and the acceptance among medical professionals that Vietnam-era veterans still are symptomatic decades later. (CBS News and Journal of the American Medical Association).

In a related development, a Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) whistle-blower revealed an anti-veterans' animus last year in claims records manipulation (Stars and Stripes), a complaint similar to an objection Roberts made when he accused the VA of falsifying a transcript at a hearing in Milwaukee. Stay tuned.

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