The crushing death of Airman Gary Holland in the wheel well of the C-54 set in motion a chain of events that 36 years later led the US Veterans Administration (VA) and the US Atty for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in 2006 to indict and convict a veteran, Airman Keith Roberts (1968-71), diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), on charges of wire fraud, arguing that Roberts fabricated his role at the death scene and his relationship with Holland, defrauding the VA.
Roberts is currently is serving 48 months in federal prison.
The US v. Keith A. Roberts indictment on mail fraud (April 26, 2005) and later superseded by an indictment on wire fraud alleges in part that Roberts in his “(s)cheme to (d)efraud” the VA “falsely represented material information to the VA” including “that Roberts and airman Gary (Holland) were close friends and roommates.”
Holland and Roberts:
- Took two weeks-long classes together while stationed together in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968
- Were quartered in the same barracks at Lakehurst, NJ where they also trained together for weeks
- Went into the Naval Air Force base in Naples, Italy together as two young airman
- Slept in close quarters (feet away from each other) while at Naval Air Station base in Naples, Italy
- Worked in the same and only base air hangar together
- Took an advancement test together on the morning of the day Holland was killed on Feb. 4, 1969
Very little exculpatory information was introduced at Roberts’ trial by his court-appointed attorney, and much exculpatory information was not introduced.
After being diagnosed with PTSD and granted disability benefits, Roberts had no idea that political and bureaucratic forces allied with VA Secretary Jim Nicholson in 2004-05 were determined to adopt the policies of the rightwing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), ultimately resulting in Roberts’ prosecution after Roberts phoned the VA and complained that the VA were engaging in fraud in processing his PTSD disability claim.
Roberts's phone call and accusation of VA fraud sounded the alarm bells at the VA.
Under the Bush administration, the VA is using propaganda to defend a reduction in benefits to veterans with PTSD, and redirect blame towards the troops themselves, often dismissing the PTSD as a mere pre-existing personality disorder, not requiring VA disability benefits, as 100,000s of troops return home form Iraq and Afghanistan damaged and forgotten.
Roberts’ benefits were ultimately cut after his phone call, and US Atty Stephen Biskupic's office used the VA benefits-severed administrative fact as a means of prosecuting Roberts in a criminal process.
Biskupic is the enforcer of a new VA policy adopted from the AEI that veterans suffering from PTSD wallow in a "culture of trauma" and do not deserve "entitlements;" and what Roberts attorney calls "a VA culture of claims denial that has turned into a criminalizaiton of the disability claims process."
Roberts remains a warning to other Vietnam-era veterans suffering from PTSD to not file for PTSD benefits.