Air Marshal Whistleblowers Reveal a Federal Aviation Culture of Discrimination, Abuse, and Incompetence
February 23, 2012
By Joe Wright
Two training supervisors, Tom Feeney and Matt Ryan, have been exposed by 5 current and former air marshals as having created a discriminatory board game that was particularly disparaging of gays, lesbians, African-Americans, and veterans.
The whistleblowers say that the board game is actually a reflection of a system-wide attitude by Federal Air Marshal management that should make fellow workers concerned, as well as the flying public.
In the words of one whistleblower who revealed his identity, Steve Theodoropoulos, the investigation was a whitewash and nothing more than a review, not a true investigation:
The general public ought to be concerned the largest federal racist discrimination case in the history of federal law enforcement is going on and it’s being covered up. (Source)
More worrisome is that the blatant discrimination is merely the tip of a very large iceberg of unimaginable proportions of corruption and abuse.
The five individuals called for an investigation by the Office of Inspector General, backed by Senators and Congressmen. After 21 months, the Office concluded that there was no evidence demonstrating a system-wide attitude, but rather was contained only to immediate training staff in one office.
Beyond the blatant discrimination, however, the whistleblowers also have pointed out the general incompetence and wastefulness that is endemic within the Air Marshal service, leading to massive cost overruns due to layers of desk bureaucrats, as well as compromised safety and service for the flying public.
February 20, 2012
By Steve Vogel
Every year, more than a thousand National Guard, reserve and active-duty troops coming back from Iraq, Afghanistan or other military duties complain of being denied jobs or otherwise being penalized by employers because of their military obligations.
The biggest offender: the federal government.
It is against federal law for employers to penalize service members because of their military service. And yet, in some cases, the U.S. government has withdrawn job offers to service members unable to get released from active duty fast enough; in others, service members have been fired after absences.
In fiscal 2011, more than 18 percent of the 1,548 complaints of violations of that law involved federal agencies, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“On the one hand, the government asked me to serve in Iraq,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Silva, a reservist who commanded a brigade in Iraq and was fired from his job as a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol contractor on his return. “On the other hand, another branch of government was not willing to protect my rights after serving.”
The federal government is the largest employer of citizen-soldiers. About 123,000 of the 855,000 men and women currently serving as Guard members and reservists, or about 14 percent, have civilian jobs with the federal government. Over a fourth of federal employees are veterans.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), enacted in 1994 to ensure that members of the military do not face a disadvantage in their civilian careers because of their service, calls on the federal government be “a model employer” for service members.
But critics contend that the federal government has been far from perfect, and they fear that with troops back home from Iraq and more on the way from Afghanistan, violations of the law could increase.
January 25, 2012
By Andy Kroll
Like any good presidential candidate, Rick Santorum heaps praise on America’s soldiers and veterans. He’s pledged to “make veterans a high priority” if elected president, adding, “This is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democratic issue, it is an American issue.” But as a US senator, Santorum engineered a controversial land deal that robbed the military’s top veterans’ home of tens of millions of dollars and worsened the deteriorating conditions at the facility.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home, which is run by the Department of Defense, bills itself as “premier home for military retirees and veterans.” The facility sprawls across 272 acres high on a hill in northern Washington, DC, near the Petworth neighborhood. The nearly 600 veterans who now live there enjoy panoramic views of the city—the Washington monument and US Capitol to the south, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to the east. At its peak, more than 2,000 veterans of World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War lived at the Home.
But with the rise of the smaller all-volunteer military, the Home began to run into serious financial problems. It was clear that one of its primary sources of revenue—a 50-cent deduction from the paychecks of active-duty servicemembers—wasn’t enough to keep the Home operating fully. In the 1990s, the Home scrambled to find ways to avoid insolvency, trimming its staff by 24 percent and reducing its vet population by 800. Still, the money problems began to show, with its older historic facilities slipping into disrepair and decay. To grapple with its worsening shortfall, officials running the Home eyed a valuable, 49-acre piece of land worth $49 million as a potential financial lifeline.
October 24, 2011
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Caleb Hellerman
The connection seems obvious: nearly 400 acres of land set aside to house veterans and thousands of veterans who need a place to call home.
But Los Angeles’ estimated 8,000 homeless vets have been barred from living at the sprawling campus for decades. The West Los Angeles property — some of the most valuable in the nation — was donated in 1888 to “establish, construct and permanently maintain” a branch of a national home for veterans, according to the original deed.
And for nearly a century, that’s what happened: permanent veterans facilities sprang up, including a post office, a trolley system and housing for as many as 4,000 vets, said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Mark Rosenbaum.
But “beginning with the Vietnam War era, vets were kicked out,” said Rosenbaum, who’s leading a class-action suit over the property against the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Now, a generation after Vietnam, the facility’s abandoned buildings are off limits to the veterans they were intended to serve.
“It’s a shame,” said Carolina Barrie, a descendant of the heiress who donated the land. Veterans should be “given every single opportunity to rehab their lives — and if they have no place to live, a place to live.”
The VA saw fit to lease parts of the property to several businesses. In September, the VA canceled three leases after rising criticism. But other entities remain on the property including a public golf course, a college baseball stadium, a theater and practice fields for the exclusive private Brentwood School.
CNN’s initial requests to the VA for its side of the lawsuit were referred to the Justice Department, which said it wouldn’t comment while the case is still pending.
Iraq war veteran Robert Rissman, 22, isn’t part of the lawsuit, but he has spent years battling addiction, post-traumatic-stress disorder and homelessness.
As an 18-year-old high school senior, Rissman signed up with the Army intending to “go to college and make something of myself,” he said. “And the Army said they’d pay for it. ”
He was deployed to Iraq for a year as part of a quick response unit that saw constant action. Upon his return to Colorado’s Fort Carson, Rissman was diagnosed with PTSD. Nightmares and paranoia haunted him.
It got worse. According to Army papers, he once spent a day drinking and sitting on his bed pointing with the barrel of an illegal sawed-off shotgun in his mouth. “I just wanted to die or go to prison,” he said. “And that was where I was headed and I knew that was where I was going and I was OK with that.”
After leaving the Army, Rissman ended up homeless in Arizona and later Los Angeles, where he “was doing a lot of methamphetamines” and “smoking a lot of dope.”
Accurate figures are hard to come by, but the VA in its most recent report estimates about 107,000 veterans find themselves homeless on any given night. Mental illness plagues 45% of homeless vets and 70% suffer from some kind of substance abuse, according to the VA.
Washington has OK’d $35.5 million to renovate various buildings on the campus including “Building 209 for housing facilities for homeless veterans,” according to a bill signed by President Obama this month.
The facility would provide vets with 70 permanent housing units, far short of the living space needed to house LA’s homeless vets.
The VA has launched an aggressive national plan with an ambitious goal: eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2015.
Under the joint program with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homeless veterans get federal vouchers to help them pay rent.
This summer the VA granted nearly $60 million to nonprofit groups that help veterans, including more than $7 million to aid an estimated 1,800 vets in California. The money aims to prevent veterans and their families from slipping into homelessness by helping with basic expenses such as rent, utilities security deposits and moving costs.
Occupy the park?
Ron Kovic, whose story was made famous in the 1989 Tom Cruise film “Born on the Fourth of July,” said the $35.5 million isn’t enough.
Paralyzed in the Vietnam War, the former Marine has been working to improve VA treatment of returning troops since his own homecoming in the late 1960s.
Kovic is calling for an occupation protest of the West LA property, not unlike the current Occupy Wall Street movement.
“If that land was given to veterans and if we were able to put at least a small percentage of what we’re spending on these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward building a facility for homeless and disabled veterans,” Kovic told CNN, “I think it would be one of the most honorable things we could do as citizens and one of the most honorable things that the VA could do to make up for the mistakes of the past.”
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, told CNN via an email statement that she’s concerned about the rising number of homeless vets in Los Angeles and believes that “updated and new facilities are needed at the West LA VA .”
“I intend keep working to make sure that Congress doesn’t stop” with the latest improvements, she said. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki “has told me he is committed to renovating two additional buildings on the campus, and we intend to hold him and the administration to that commitment.”
Meanwhile, VA attorneys have asked a federal judge to throw the ACLU lawsuit out of court.
“In fact, according to Rosenbaum the Justice Department attorney said, ‘We don’t believe that the VA has any authority or any responsibility to provide housing.”
But Dr. Dean Norman, chief of staff of Los Angeles’ VA health care system seemed to contradict that. “I think we have the resources with the community to end homelessness for veterans in Los Angeles,” Norman said.
Norman said new housing is being created for homeless vets and those who need help should call 1-877-4AIDVET (1-877-424-3838) to start the process that will put them in safe housing.
As for Rissman, he’s currently living at a halfway house in hopes of leaving his homeless life behind. He thinks the West Los Angeles property could help many more homeless vets win their personal battles. “It would get a number of people in off the street and get them doing what they need to be doing to get their life together,” said Rissman.
Meanwhile, the judge has refused to throw out the case and has appointed a mediator to try and resolve the situation beginning this week.
“I promise you that these gates will be open,” said Rosenbaum. “We will win this case.”
December 7th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Questions are being raised over whether a widely prescribed anti-psychotic drug may be contributing to the deaths of traumatized U.S. war veterans.
Among those who recently died while taking AstraZeneca’s blockbuster drug Seroquel are Marine corporals Andrew White and Chad Oligschlaeger. Both were being given multiple drugs, including Seroquel, for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both died in their sleep.
Before his death, White was being given more than double the maximum recommended Seroquel dose for patients suffering from schizophrenia.
“He was told if he had trouble sleeping he could take another pill,” said his father, Stan White.
Seroquel is the United States’ fifth-best-selling drug, and one of the top prescribed drugs by the Veteran Affairs Department. Since the start of the Afghanistan war, government spending on the drug has increased more than 770 percent to $8.6 million per year. Yet in the same time period, the number of patients being treated by the department increased by only 34 percent.
The drug is approved only for the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, yet it is commonly given to vets for insomnia and other PTSD symptoms. According to The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, other side effects “may include dry mouth, blurred vision, and tardive dyskinesia, typified by involuntary movements of the lips, mouth, and tongue.” Other proven side effects include weight gain and diabetes, while new research suggests that the drug may also cause sudden heart failure.
Medical examiners concluded that both White and Oligschlaeger died of “multiple drug toxicity” caused by a deadly interaction between the different drugs they were taking; such deaths are not recorded as caused by any single drug. Yet family and advocates of vets are becoming increasingly concerned that Seroquel may bear a large part of the blame for such deaths, and are calling for a reevaluation of prescribing practices for the drug.
“Right now, I’m so angry, and I believe someone needs to be held accountable,” said Oligschlaeger’s mother, Julie Oligschlaeger. “The protocol absolutely has to change.”
September 29, 2010
Stars and Stripes
By: Leo Shane III
The authors of the book “The $3 Trillion War” noted in a conference call on Wednesday that when they first released their findings two years ago, the estimates were widely criticized as being too high. Now, the researchers believe they may have been too low.
Joseph Stiglitz, who received the 2000 Nobel Prize for Economics, and Linda Bilmes, a public policy professor at Harvard University, said the number of veterans seeking post-combat medical care and the cost of treating those individuals is about 30 percent higher than they initially estimated. That, combined with increases in the cost of military medical care and the lagging economy, will likely push the true long-term cost of the war over the $4 trillion mark.
“This may be more of a crisis than the Medicare and Social Security problems we have looming,” said House Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif. “It rivals both in the potential impact. This is another entitlement we’ve committed ourselves to, and it could break the bank.”
In a conference call with reporters, Bilmes said about 600,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have already sought medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and 500,000 have applied for disability benefits. That’s about 30 percent higher than initial estimates for care, and could cost the department nearly $1 trillion in costs for the current wars alone.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the costs Thursday morning. Filner said he’ll use the new research to push for a “veterans trust fund” to pay for the long-term costs of war, a proposal he’s already pitched to Democratic leaders in the House.
Under his plan, lawmakers would add a 10 to 15 percent surcharge on all appropriations bills, banking billions of dollars for future veterans medical costs. Reaction to the idea so far has been negative, Fliner said, because lawmakers are concerned that such a move would make the costs of war look astronomical.
Of course, Filner said, that’s exactly the point. Stiglitz said history has shown the costs of treating illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder only increase with time, and with the country still expecting a significant presence in Afghanistan for years to come, the bills will keep piling up.
June 30, 2010
(CNN) — A Missouri VA hospital is under fire because it may have exposed more than 1,800 veterans to life-threatening diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.
John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis has recently mailed letters to 1,812 veterans telling them they could contract hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after visiting the medical center for dental work, said Rep. Russ Carnahan.
Carnahan said Tuesday he is calling for a investigation into the issue and has sent a letter to President Obama about it.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said Carnahan, a Democrat from Missouri. “No veteran who has served and risked their life for this great nation should have to worry about their personal safety when receiving much needed healthcare services from a Veterans Administration hospital.”
The issue stems from a failure to clean dental instruments properly, the hospital told CNN affiliate KSDK.