MMQB: General Reprimanded In Tillman Scandal Now Head Of VA Human Resources

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Gina Farrisee

Gina Farrisee

What do you get when you cross a retired, scandal-plagued Army General with one of the most scandal-plagued agencies in modern history?

Veterans will get to ride shotgun on this new inquiry, which will probably end with the answer of, “more scandals.” Or, perhaps we will get more scandal cover-ups. Either way, it is a discussion we need to have.

Hi and welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Quarterback for Veterans. I am your host and creator of DisabledVeterans.org, Benjamin Krause.

This matter about the late Pat Tillman and a retired general came across my desk last week, and I thought it would be good to look into the matter.

I received an anonymous letter from VA employees. These individuals claimed veterans. The letter stated that there is a group of veterans working within VA who are deeply troubled by poor VA leadership choices and highlighted an example.

The letter provided a story that linked it in with the Pat Tillman friendly fire scandal. It highlighted that the new head of VA Human Resources who was reprimanded for her role in the Tillman scandal.

Upon deeper investigation, I stumbled across related investigations into disability fraud committed by Army. The disability fraud was exposed by The Nation magazine in 2008 and investigated by Congress in 2010. I thread the needle between the scandals below.

The retired General identified in the letter was Maj. Gen. Gina Farrisee. While I cannot tell whether or not she was involved in all the scandals I highlight below, I know she was in a command leadership role when the scandals developed. That fact alone should cause many veterans to be concerned.

So the question we have here is what came first, the scandal or the general?

 

Army General Gina Farrisee, the Pat Tillman scandal, and more

From 2001 to 2011, over 160,000 servicemembers were discharged from the military for disabilities. Many of these were falsely given a diagnosis of Personality Disorder as a pre-existing condition instead of PTSD to help DoD/VA avoid paying for benefits and medical care.

While this is not only a situation that requires examination under medical malpractice laws, it also warrants a discussion of basic principles of fraud.

In 2010, estimates indicated the government saved $12.5 billion in benefits and health care that some of these veterans were unable to qualify for due to the false diagnosis. That estimate came out before Army’s Madigan scandal surfaced in 2011. In Army’s Madigan mental health unit, psychiatrists and other doctors were falsely reversing PTSD diagnosis to help the government save money [sic].

It was a disgrace and many veterans are likely facing the fallout from policies highlighted by the Madigan scandal. Ultimately, over 160,000 discharges were slated for review to see if Army policies defrauded veterans our of medical retirement benefits.

Rather than turning in the right direction, some of those with some degree of involvement in these scandals were promoted.

For example, Major General Gina Farrisee headed the Army personnel division responsible in part for decisions connected to the scandalous policies that screwed so many servicemembers out of benefits. She was also reprimanded – at least for appearances sake – for her part in the Pat Tillman friendly fire cover-up but later promoted:

This year’s leader-in-residence for the Jepson School of Leadership Studies is a U.S. Army general who was reprimanded for her role in misleading the public about the death of Pat Tillman, a former all-pro defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals turned Army Ranger, who was killed by his own platoon in Afghanistan in 2004.

Now, Ms. Gina Farrisee is the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of Human Resources and Administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs. (More on Ms. Farrisee below.)

Notice the trend?

 

Joshua Kors and how Army’s fraud worked

Journalist Joshua Kors of The Nation reported the first story about Army soldiers getting screwed by military doctors, and I have broken that process down into ten steps here. The sequence of events that defrauded many servicemembers went something like this:

  1. Servicemember enlists and is not diagnosed with personality disorder (PD)
  2. Servicemember goes to Iraq after training
  3. Servicemember is injured with traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD
  4. Servicemember seeks treatment from military mental health
  5. Military doctor diagnoses servicemember with pre-existing PD
  6. Servicemember gets pressured into signing personality disorder discharge
  7. Servicemember gets bounced out of the military without proper benefits
  8. Pause and repeat for thousands of servicemembers
  9. Gov saves $12.5 billion in disability and medical payments
  10. No government official is sued for fraud, while veterans’ families suffer

Records indicate that 160,000 veterans may have been impacted when factored into the Madigan scandal, too. Many of those veterans were forced out of the military under these or similar circumstances. Last year, Army finalized its Madigan PTSD probe of the cases but initially chose to withhold the results of its investigation.

The point of fraud here was Army’s violation of the principle of the presumption of soundness. The gist of this presumption follows the “you break it, you buy it” idea. Those who pass through the enlistment and training process are presumed to be fine. All conditions that manifest later while in service are presumed to have occurred in service without some specific contrary evidence.

Instead, Army claimed they missed the defect in an effort to save a buck on the backs of veterans. Shameful.

Kors covered the story of Army soldier Chuck Luther, which looks like the first real exposure of the PTSD scandal. Kors told the story of his investigation into Army’s scandalous policy to Congress in 2010. According to his testimony, Army officials coerced Luther into signing a Personality Disorder discharge after forcing him to endure torture techniques like sleep deprivation and confinement.

During that same Congressional Hearing, Chuck Luther presented his case to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, wherein he claims he was basically tortured. Army Maj. Gen. Gina Farrisee (Ret) denied the allegation of sleep deprivation and generally deflected questions from Rep. Bob Filner about her knowledge and involvement.

As far as responsibility, General Farrisee was Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel in the Army at the time. She was in charge of policy related to personnel management, which likely included discharge policies. However, the full scope of her involvement in the fraudulent policy against servicemembers is unknown.

 

Gina Farrisee and possible scandal connections

It is important to note that Farrisee was previously the Commanding General of Army’s Disability Physical Disability Agency. This means she did have extensive experience related to disability issues and overseeing the administration of policy for that purpose.

After the 2010 hearing, Farrisee was promoted to Commanding General of Army Human Resources Command. There she oversaw most everything, but she retired in 2012 following the exposure of the Madigan scandal. It is unknown if her retirement induced by that scandal.

After retirement, Gina S. Farrisee went on to be appointed by President Barack Obama to head Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Human Resources and Administration. If anything, this indicates a possible move toward training VA examiners to mimic the same efficiencies [sic] of those in the Army under her command. And, if true, this means veterans will continue to get the shaft.

A cursory evaluation of Gina Farrisee’s Army history reveals leadership, either directly or indirectly, during some of the most highly profiled scandals in modern Army Personnel History:

  • 2000: Farrisee was commanding officer of Army’s Physical Disability Agency just prior to start of personality disorder false diagnosis scandal.
  • 2004: Farrisee was involved with in studying sexual assaults in military academies, which clearly did little to reduce sexual assaults or harassment.
  • 2007: Farrisee was admonished for her involvement in the Pat Tillman friendly fire cover-up. She awarded him the Silver Star despite his death being from friendly fire.
  • 2010: Farrisee appeared before Congress to defend Army’s reaction to the personality disorder cover-up – that was before we knew about its continuation at Madigan at Fort Lewis.
  • 2011: The Madigan scandal highlighted inadequate training of disability examiners, PTSD and personality disorders, and gross misunderstandings about the requirements of the Hippocratic Oath.

While this writer is unsure if she was called in to clean up the scandals or to help keep them from headlines, we do know that she has towed the party line at least during the Tillman cover-up.

Now Gina Farrisee is in charge of training employees for one of the most scandal-ridden Executive agencies in modern history. Will she have what it takes to turn the agency around or will she maintain the status quo?

I think we will hear less about the scandals while they are being brushed under the carpet, but I do not believe scandals will stop.

What do you think?

Sources:

NBC News: Army withholding findings of Madigan PTSD probe

House Hearing – Personality Disorder Discharges: Impact on Veterans’ Benefits

The Nation: The Personality Disorder Scandal

 

 

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24 Comments

  1. This Farrisee appointment as DVA Office of Human Resources and Admin. scares the hell out of me. What role will she take on in that position? Will she just be an administrator, or will she take an active part in training disability examiners at the VA? This all smells pretty rotten to me. All I can say for us PTSD veterans, past, and future is CYA! Get your paperwork in order and get ready for a Farrisee attack on your disability rating!!

  2. Thanks for another informative article, Ben. You are the only source of truth about the VA I can find. Please keep up the good work, your fellow veterans support and respect you.

  3. I AM A THAILAND VETERAN….. AGENT ORANGE. WE STILL GET NAILED TO THE CROSS. DOD HAS ADMITED SPRAY8NG EVERY PREIMETER FENCE IN THAILAND… SCHOULD BE A BOOTS ON CLAIM. YOU WERE THERE. YOUR CLAIM IS GRANTED……. NOT SO….. THAILAND VETS ARE TREATED LIKE 2ND CLASS CITIZENS………..CURRENT GOVT AND VA JUST SUCKS….. THANK YOU… AS I AM DIEING OF ISCHEMIC HEART DISEASE…….
    SGT. ANDREW BAUMEISTER. USAF……. UNION CITY,MICHIGAN

    • Sir, thank you for your service.

      I am with you that it goes on, there are far too many who still want to do continued damage to those of us they harmed by chemicals or neglect – both on the battlefield and in the doctor’s offices.

  4. Great work Ben, the VA is the most broken and corrupt agency I have ever seen. They are impossible to work with. Privitization is the only answer. I am sure this lady is there to help the VBA dance around issues and keep denying. The Veterans Affairs committee in the house and senate is absolutely ineffective. They only seek sound bytes but dail to pass any legislation with any real bite that will hold the VA accountable. I feel betrayed. I am a 30 year Air Force Vet.

  5. How has no one * her yet? I mean, according to Obama, it is OK to kill American citizens now. So, it should be OK for someone with a * to * this person in the name of democracy and veterans.

    We need to take care of out own, she needs to go. Where are my * at?

    • That’s not a way we do things, we aren’t the wild west.

      We are trying to take care of our own – tweet kind replies to your leaders – not seeming bad words that can be taken out of context and harm you or others.

      Take a page from Jesus Christ – peaceful is the only way.

  6. FYI: Want your leaders to HAVE to answer you?

    Tweet them but do it AS A REPLY to one of THEIR tweets and they CAN NOT DELETE IT.

    Our voices are not being heard because WE are not using twitter like THEY do, so put it in their timeline permanently>

    Get our veterans out of the horrid care they are under now in many cities, hospitals and get our homeless and despairing veterans the help they need.

    • So post the Twitter addresses for all the top leaders at the VA Central Office.
      We already know how to contact the House & Senate VA committee staffers.

      Tweets are too easy and not proven to be effective for real change.
      Those people get 1000s of tweets & replies. Who has time to read all that stuff?
      They surely don’t. Its simply an outbound propaganda tool, that’s all they use it for.

  7. This is the classic fashion in which the VA takes in lowlifes from DoD and other federal agencies. They are experts at sucking up the worst of the sewage that exists at DoD and the other federal agencies. Their track record for decades proves this beyond doubt.

    What is amazing is that the VA-OIG just busted the deputy undersecretary of VA Human Resources in 2010 for violating federal hiring laws and bringing into the VA Central Office (VACO) his cronies and losers that had bad track records at other federal agencies. One has to remember that since the VA is the worst of all federal executive branch agencies and has the very worst of media and public opinion, all they can hope to do is get whomever they can to help run the shop into further ruin. This appointment has the rubberstamp of Barry Hussein Soebarkah and General Shinseki himself. So, what does that tell you about how they really want to make things better for veterans?!?! Top-grade sewage for top level positions. Pure sludge and all that goes with it.

    If this is their concept of ethical cleanliness, you hate to imagine their definition of dirty.
    Just think of VACO as a big rat’s nest and snake’s pit of corruption & incompetence.

  8. One of the best things I read in this article was that current Iraq/Afghan Veterans are working in the VA. Maybe instead of pointing fingers and twiddling thumbs some of you should find employment in the VA and begin to change it from within. I’ve got several fellow Marines working on MSW’s, psychology, and psychiatry as well as VSO’s, in an attempt to populate the VA with veterans. Quit complaining and do something. Ben, great article-thanks for the heads up.

    • Thanks for the invite, @GTO, but more changes historically have been made by outside vet groups than any internal changes from within VA. VA has a sordid history of retaliating against whistleblowers and others who complain of factual abuses and incompetence and negligence. There are no real protections until VA employees become vested after 3 years of employ. From today, that’s a very long time. Ben and I hammer away and use the law to bring VA into compliance. That’s a tool that is not used enough by veterans advocates and groups. And we’re talking state court suits for fraud and other civil and constitutional torts. A new time has arrived to use the litigation tools there to get change. And VA employees have no immunity from civil suits for illegal acts they committed as VA employees. The abuses are rampant, and only court orders and judgments for money damages can work.

    • I think it is important to remember that VA seems to keep what I would call “real veterans” out of certain leadership roles. This is especially true with VA’s General Counsel office. Beyond this, I know of many many veterans who have applied for jobs, been well qualified, and never received an offer. So, it is not for a lack of trying that more veterans do not work at VA.

  9. Thanks Ben ! So why do you think it is always retired officers who become part of the top heavy VA bureaucracy ? Were all enlisted men inferior beings ? Or could it be that being from outside the “godd ole’ boy/girl network, they are too dangerous ? Who better knows the travails of the enlisted men/women ? Heaven forbid we should interject clean hands into the disability determination process !

  10. In response to GTO… I tried that. I applied twice for VSR positions at my Regional Benefits Office, had the 30% or more Veteran’s Preference for the position and definitely had the education, and skill sets required. However, at both interviews, the “tone” changed 3/4’s of the way through when I was asked why I would make a good VSR. Obviously, my answer “As a retired disabled veteran myself, I can related to the men and women walking through that door for the first time, and needing the services and help that the VA offers those who served, but may not be exactly sure how to clarify that. I will be able to accurately transcribe what these newly discharged or retired veterans require, so that an accurate decision can be made about the benefits and services they deserve.” All that occurred after that was a quick shuffling of papers back into their folders, and a “Thank you for your time, and we will be in touch if you have been selected”, followed by awkward silence… They don’t want us there! This is a clear sign that drastic changes need to happen, and this mindset of cheating the veteran has been going on for FAR too long!

  11. Keep up the great work Ben
    We all need to get involved and keep
    the garbage that is infiltrating our
    Democracy and government at bay.
    Awareness is key and it’s great that your are making these issues brought to light. We need new people, new leaders who care and are not self consumed with their own self serving
    agendas.

  12. You think this General’s appointment is scary? In 2012, there was a VA appointment that escaped any kind of scrutiny: Norbert Doyle as VA’s head of procurement and logistics. This appointment should have been questioned not only by veterans but also by the tax-paying public because this retired Army Colonel is now in charge of billions of dollars of taxpayers money. He was involved in a scandal in one of the Iraq War’s dirtiest procurement practices. Google his name together with the name of the whistleblower Bunnatine Greenhouse and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s a sample article written about this scandal: http://www.publicintegrity.org/2004/11/03/5624/documents-reveal-concern-regarding-halliburton-contracts

  13. Thanks for the interesting article. I will surely keep my eye on the path the General walks while with the VA. I consider myself an expert on the military and VA disability evaluation systems, employed as a DAV NSO for more than 20 years in offices in San Francisco, Reno, Ft Harrison MT, Salt Lake City and Columbia, SC. I represented clients before the VA, Army PEB, Navy PEB, Various service Discharge Review Boards, Social Security Administration ALJs and the Merit System Protection Board. My opinion is that most of the problems with delays processing claims are the result of VACO wanting all VAROs to operate exactly the same way though each has its own differences. I arrived at the Columbia VARO in 1992 and it was the 2nd most efficient RO in the country. Good management and time saving procedures allowed claims to be completed without waiting for all evidence to arrive. The philosophy seemed to be ‘if you can grant the benefit then make the decision. If more evidence came in later then make another decision.’ Well, that ended some time before 2000. VACO called the Columbia RO managers to Wash DC to find out how they ran such a productive office. VACO ended up criticising Columbia for cutting corners and made them do it VACO’s way. Beginning of the end.

    The problem was seldom that bad people were making lousy decisions depriving vets of benefits earned. More than 90% of the Rating Board decisions I studied before signing off on them were 100% accurate and most of the remaining cases had minor errors that got corrected when I took it back and pointed out the error. The few decisions with substantial error were rare. I hope the VA will return control to the VARO managers and take advantage of local experience and competence. It does not have to be the nightmare that it obviously has become.

    • Of course Stan, it’s VACO’s way or no way even if the other way could benefit the veterans. The point I was trying to make is that all these little scandals like the claims backlog, homelessness, preventable deaths, etc. are nothing but smoke screen, subterfuge, or call it whatever you want, put out there by the VA criminals to escape prosecution. The VA puts out these little scandals as walls to hide the criminal activities within VA procurement – where the money is. VACO controls everything including the dissemination of information and disinformation to lead the attention of the media and veterans advocates away from what’s hidden behind the walls. I strongly believe (which I can support with hard evidence) that even the the VA watchdog we call the House Committee on Veterans Affairs chaired by Jeff Miller is actively covering up the criminal activities within VA procurement.

  14. The more I read about VA hiring process, the more I am able to realize the harsh truth that the VA HR has people who are totally incompetent and utterly lazy, not doing their job and no accountability. I had been told about 6-7 months ago that I will be hired for a research position, but till today, still waiting for the “process” to complete. This “process” is not moving at all and being made to look more complicated than hiring a Director for the VA. I am tearing my hair out of frustration and not know what to do and how long I need to wait for.

  15. Benjamin, I wish you would do a little more proofreading of your posts. I appreciate the content and thank you for connecting the “dots.” Please tell me: What is your response to Donald Trump’s statement about the Twin Towers going down on 11 September 2011 on George W. Bush’s watch?

Comments are closed.