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Vet Imprisoned for Seeking Benefits

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Message Michael Leon
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by Michael Leon

Madison, Wisconsin—Since March 2007, Airman Keith Roberts has been imprisoned, serving the first few months of a four-year sentence for five counts of federal wire fraud.

Keith Roberts filed for disability benefits in 1999 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by private and public medical health professionals.

Though not nearly as horrific as many, Roberts’ Vietnam-era service (1968-74) affected him badly, and includes an incident in which he was assaulted by the Navy Shore Patrol in 1969, and he witnessed a fellow airman killed in a gruesome aircraft accident, also in 1969, at Naples, Italy where he was stationed.

Roberts jumped through all of the hoops that the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) makes claimants jump through, and was granted service-connected benefits for his diagnosed PTSD in 1999 retroactive to 1993 (later revised to1992), and received over $300,000 in benefits.

Roberts and his wife believed that after a paperwork-endurance ordeal in finding all supporting documents that the VA had finally come through and honored his service, and affirmed his medical condition after the long benefits application process.

The VA

As a Marine Corp Times piece notes of the benefits process (Kelly Kennedy, April 5, 2007), “’The … disability retirement system stacks the deck against injured soldiers by forcing them to prove they have post-traumatic stress disorder …,’ said an Army lawyer who helps soldiers appeal their claims.”

Worse than a stacked deck, the VA was headed (and still is) by Jim Nicholson, former Republican National Committee Chair (1997-2000) who sports a resume devoid of experience in veterans' advocacy and seems openly hostile to disability compensation, an appearance Nicholson tries to deflect in public statements.

"The amount of dollars involved (in veteran compensation) is huge and the lives involved are important," Nicholson said. "Our number one goal is to take care of those veterans who are deserving," referring to a 2005 VA Inspector General’s report on veterans’ compensation.

As Keith Roberts was battling the VA, he had no idea that a confluence of political and bureaucratic forces allied with Secretary Nicholson were about to make his previous ordeal a walk in the park by comparison.

Roberts collided with the US government’s determination to deceive and treat this veteran like a criminal.

VA Turns Against Roberts

Roberts’ wife, Deloris, said her family is “devastated.”

But they maintain reams of paper documents which appear to sustain their narrative of events in which a vet became a victim of a hostile bureaucracy and an overzealous prosecutor.

In November of 2003, Roberts said he contacted the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) in Illinois by phone, complaining that Roberts had come to believe that the VA was committing fraud in the handling of his benefits claims, according to Roberts’ sworn deposition.

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Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at
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