Publication: THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS PubDate: 3/22/1992 Head: Whistle-blowers say military waging psychological warfare

Officials dispute that mental health system used for reprisals Byline: Ed Timms, Steve McGonigle Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL Word Count: 2538 Page Number: 1A Military commanders have tried to discredit whistle-blowers and intimidate subordinates by ordering them to undergo psychiatric evaluations or by sending them to mental wards, according to interviews with current and former service members. Doctors who complain about shoddy hospital care have been targets. So have other military personnel and civilian employees who report wrongdoing. And so have political dissenters -- or those who simply annoyed commanders. Pentagon officials insist that despite allegations of abuse, they are unaware of any confirmed cases in which the mental health system was used for reprisals. Critics, however, say that service members have been improperly forced into mental health treatment or evaluations -- made victims of a system lacking the safeguards that protect the civil rights of civilians and offering little incentive for military commanders not to abuse their authority. “It is intolerable,” said Rep. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., “that military whistle-blowers should be intimidated by such an insidious tactic and that those responsible should go unpunished.” In a three-month investigation, The Dallas Morning News examined 27 psychiatric cases involving the military, including one dating to the 1940s. Most alleged victims had spotless records until they challenged the system. Many have spent years seeking redress in federal court or administrative proceedings. The House Armed Services Committee has held hearings on psychiatric abuses since 1987 and continues to prod the Pentagon for reforms. The Pentagon has resisted procedural reforms as potentially harmful to military order. Chester Paul Beach Jr., the Defense Department’s acting general

counsel, told The News that the Pentagon has worked hard to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation. “The absence of substantiated allegations supports the conclusion that there are very few cases, if any, in which a commander has referred a service member for a mental health evaluation in the absence of overt behavior on the part of the member that provided a reasonable basis for the commander’s judgment,” Mr. Beach stated in a six-page letter to The News last week. In 1990, Lt. Gen. Donald Jones, then a deputy assistant secretary of defense, told a panel of the House committee that “existing policy adequately protects service members from improper referrals and psychiatric evaluations and inappropriate adverse consequences.” It is difficult to assess the scope of the problem. Military officials say they do not categorize records by type of incident. Stephen Shelnutt, a former Air Force lawyer who is pressing for reforms, said he knows of at least 100 cases involving allegations of military psychiatric abuse. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that investigates allegations of retaliation against federal whistle-blowers, does not keep records on how many of its cases involve allegations of psychiatric abuse. It reports that 180 of 455 complaints of retaliation in fiscal 1991 came from civilians employed by the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. Mr. Beach said the Pentagon -- at Congress’ urging -- is strengthening its policies to ensure that commanders do not use psychiatric evaluations as tools of reprisal against whistle-blowers, but he denied any “systemic” problems. Mr. Beach was the only Pentagon official to respond to questions from The News. The Defense Department denied requests to interview officials of the mental health system. The Army, Navy and Air Force have not responded to questions that The News submitted in mid-February. Disclosure of information on specific cases, Mr. Beach said, “could constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Integrity defended

Former practitioners defended the military mental health system’s integrity during recent interviews with The News. “I never felt that I had an inappropriate referral,” said Dr. Joe Fishburn, who was chief of psychology services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for a dozen years. Court cases, congressional testimony and first-hand accounts from former service members, however, depict a mental health system that is vulnerable to abuses. “The perversion is that there is some plan afoot to use testing and diagnosis of people as weapons against them,” said Dr. Donald Soeken, a psychiatric social worker who exposed the federal government’s use of “fitness-for-duty” exams to discredit whistle-blowers in the late 1970s. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., a Navy psychiatrist from 1968 to 1970, said he “saw several instances where it was clear that the referral for a psychiatric interview was based on something other than the patient’s best interests.” Michael Tufariello’s “by-the-book” attitude, he believes, landed him in a psychiatric ward at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. The former chief petty officer contends that his forced hospitalization was part of the retaliation against him for reporting payroll abuses at Dallas Naval Air Station in 1983 and ‘84. “What happened was nobody would speak to me,”‘ he said. “Let’s face it. After someone has gone to a mental ward, you kind of question what’s going on. It was a nice ploy, and it worked. What they did was totally neutralize me.” The potential harm for alleged victims extends far beyond their military service. Physicians say that even the record of a psychiatric evaluation that found no behavioral disorders can cripple their post-military careers. Others may be unable to get work with defense companies or government agencies. Dr. Frances S. Norris was a highly trained pathologist and nuclear medicine expert with an unblemished record before she reported what she considered to be improper medical procedures and malpractice at two Army hospitals. The former Army colonel alleged that the retaliation against her included a one-month stay in a psychiatric ward, where she

ultimately was declared fit for duty. Forced out of the Army in 1988, she applied to several hospitals but could not find a job. Despite her diagnosis, she was obligated to report her psychiatric history when applying for a medical license in Oklahoma. “Your life has been sullied,” Dr. Norris said. “Just the fact that you were sent to a psychiatric ward makes people wonder.” She is now completing a law degree at Oklahoma City University. She said she has a “ready-made specialty” when she graduates this spring. “There are a lot of people like me,” she said. “They don’t speak out. It’s extremely difficult for somebody to admit that all these things happen.” Civilian employees of the military complain of similar treatment. Congress has enacted legislation designed to protect civilian and military whistle-blowers, but critics decried the efforts as inadequate. “The abuses of whistle-blowers are as outrageous as they’ve ever been and as intolerable as they’ve ever been,” said Paul Higgins, who screens such cases for the Government Accountability Project, a Washington watchdog organization. “I don’t think the legislation has put fear into managers who are retaliating against whistle-blowers. We continue daily to get calls from people who are terminated, abused, sent to forced psychiatric evaluations, who were very clearly . . . protected whistle-blowers under the law.” Bonnie Lemp recently was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation after she reported several security violations by co-workers while working in Europe as a civilian Army employee. “They wanted me to quit, they wanted to fire me, and they wanted me to keep my mouth shut,” Mrs. Lemp said in an interview. “They wanted to cover up their mishandling of information.” This month, Mrs. Lemp filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. “It absolutely reminds you of a Russian novel,” said her attorney, Maralyn Leaf, of the actions taken against Mrs. Lemp. “You would not read about what was going on and think you were talking about the

United States of America.” Washington lawyer Eugene Fidell said he is representing a Navy enlisted woman ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for expressing an opinion. In February, the woman, whom he declined to identify, was in language school studying Arabic. While watching television with other service members, Mr. Fidell said, the woman questioned whether the United States should give the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq more time to work. Mr. Fidell said the woman’s loyalty was challenged by superiors and she was sent to Bethesda Naval Medical Center for a psychiatric evaluation. Mr. Fidell said her superiors also intimated that “she might not be entirely trustworthy as a person of Jewish background.” The woman’s security clearance was revoked. She was honorably discharged from the Navy last summer but has petitioned the Board for the Correction of Naval Records to expunge records of the psychiatric evaluation. Such allegations are not new. In 1969, West Point cadet Peter Cole reported to Army investigators that illegal drug use at the academy was widespread. According to congressional testimony, Gen. Bernard Rogers, then West Point’s commandant, ordered Mr. Cole sent to the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He spent almost a month in a locked ward until an aide to the secretary of the Navy intervened and helped get him returned to duty. “There were officer patients on the ward who I personally observed who had objected to Army policy and who were involuntarily receiving electric shock treatments,” Mr. Cole told members of the House Armed Services Committee at a 1987 hearing. “In addition, there were women patients involuntarily confined and forced to take incapacitating drugs because they had refused to properly support their husbands’ career.” After his tour as head of the U.S. Military Academy, Gen. Rogers served as Army chief of staff and as supreme commander of NATO. Military rules differ The military mental health system differs greatly from its civilian counterpart.

Anything told to a psychiatrist or psychologist, for example, can be relayed to a superior officer -- or used as evidence in a trial. Mental health workers may be disciplined for not disclosing contents of counseling sessions. What a civilian says in a counseling session cannot be ethically or legally disclosed, with few exceptions -- such as admissions of child abuse. Service members can be ordered by a commander to receive counseling or enter a hospital without previous judicial review. By comparison, every state and the District of Columbia require sworn statements and judicial hearings that must be followed before a civilian patient can be held involuntarily. Prison inmates have more legal protections against improper commitments to psychiatric wards than do men and women in the military, said Yale psychiatry professor Howard Zonana. “You have to wonder . . . whether this is an effective therapeutic environment, where people are essentially compelled to enter a therapist-patient relationship without the confidence that their statements are going to be kept confidential,” said Mr. Fidell, a former Coast Guard lawyer. William Mayer, then the Pentagon’s chief health officer, acknowledged to Congress in January 1988 that the military had “no specific policy statements or criteria’ on the use of psychiatric evaluations. The decision, he said, is "within the sound discretion of the medical officer or commander.” Mr. Beach said the typical referral is made by a commanding officer “based on personal observation or information from a reliable source about a service member’s behavior.” Mr. Beach emphasized that decisions about treatment -- whether to hospitalize a patient, for example -- are left to medical officers. As in the civilian world, the decision is based on an assessment of potential danger, he said. Civilian employees of the military do have more rights than their counterparts in uniform. But refusing a referral for a psychiatric evaluation can lead to their termination. And critics say the law is often ignored.

Service members may not even know where they’re being sent -- until they are locked up in a mental ward. Tom Pearson, who represented a former Air Force lawyer at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, said his client was sent to Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio in August 1983 “under the misapprehension he was going to have his stomach looked at. And the next thing he knew, they kept him 34 days in a psychiatric ward.” A federal lawsuit filed by the officer, identified as “Doe,” also alleged that the base psychologist filled out referral papers without examining Doe. In March 1989, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris of Alexandria, Va., ordered that all records of the officer’s hospitalization be deleted. “The plaintiff should have been notified of the reason for his hospitalization to assure that he was not left in a state of confusion,” Judge Cacheris wrote. “The deprivation of notice is ‘truly Kafkaesque.’ ” The decision, which the Air Force did not appeal, has produced no discernible change in the service’s procedures, said Mr. Shelnutt, who was co-counsel on the Doe case. “If you were to say they have essentially ignored the opinion, that would not be incorrect,” he said. Balking at reforms The military has long opposed any legislation that imposed greater control and oversight of mental health evaluations and hospitalizations. Congress’ most recent effort, in 1990, required the Defense Department to develop regulations on mental health procedures. An advisory panel’s proposals were to be submitted to the House and Senate by mid-1991. The proposals arrived several months late -- and were not well received. Rep. Nicholas Mavroules, D-Mass., and Ms. Boxer, the Democratic congresswoman from California, told the Defense Department in a joint letter last month that the proposals did not comply with the intent of

Congress. The Government Accountability Project, the watchdog group, wrote that the proposed regulations would leave military whistle-blowers “just as vulnerable to psychiatric reprisal.” The military responded “in a fashion that really didn’t change anything,” said Dr. Zonana, who heads the American Psychiatric Association’s commission on judicial action. Ms. Boxer said that the proposed regulations did not define “an inappropriate mental health examination” or establish an effective way to challenge involuntary hospitalizations. “As a result, there is no way to hold commanders accountable for misusing psychiatric evaluations to punish military whistle-blowers,” she said. The Pentagon advisory committee suggested that service members alleging psychiatric abuses may seek redress under a military law that provides for review of complaints against a commander. Former military lawyers say the law has seldom if ever resulted in corrective action. “Absolutely pointless, a complete fraud,” Mr. Fidell said. Contacting a military inspector general, a position designed to investigate wrongdoing, also was suggested as a remedy for service members who believe that they are sent to mental health evaluations as a reprisal. A 1990 draft report by a Senate subcommittee, however, concluded that many inspectors general “lack objectivity and/or effectiveness in investigating whistle-blower complaints of waste, fraud and abuse.” John E. Knecht, for one, has little faith in the ability of inspectors general to police abuses in the mental health system. Mr. Knecht was the civilian chief of internal review at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona when he reported that U.S. engineers had charged foreign governments for work not performed. He contended that his Army supervisors retaliated against him by ordering psychiatric evaluations. He gave more than 200 pages of documents supporting his allegations to the Army’s Office of Inspector General, which later destroyed them.

“What you’ve got are these watchdogs who are supposed to be reporting abuses, and a lot of them are just covering it up,” Mr. Knecht said.

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