The VA’s High Crime

Raping Mary Kay, the story below, is a detailed account of how the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs defrauds veterans of their benefits and covers up the most frequent and costly wound of military Service. The wound’s now popular name is PTSD.

That label covers what psychiatrist Bessel A. van der Kolk refers to as “the effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society.” Dr. van der Kolk is one of the world’s foremost PTSD authorities.

War is one kind of overwhelming experience. Rape is another. Violence is the military’s business. The military’s virulent rape culture that left Mary Kay permanently disabled is a seemingly unavoidable byproduct.

Science shows how the psychological trauma caused by overwhelming experience often permanently damages the brain and central nervous system.

Because overwhelming experience is the military’s business, it shouldn’t be surprising that the invisible maiming of psychological trauma is far more common than Purple Heart wounds.

In his memoir Duty former defense secretary Robert Gates wrote that, “no one who had actually been in combat could walk away without scars, without some measure of post-traumatic stress.”

The lesson of PTSD—a lesson humanity doesn’t want to learn—is that while you can teach people to be unspeakably violent, you can’t teach their psyches to be unhurt by violence.

That’s why the post-traumatic stress of military service silently ruins countless millions of lives in the form of destroyed trust and hope, suicide, addictions of every kind, unemployability, homelessness, psychologically scarred spouses and children, high veteran divorce rates, high veteran crime rates—indeed a witch’s brew of dysfunction that defies total description.

Obviously, the cost in money and human suffering is beyond calculation.

Raping Mary Kay shows how the VA goes to absurd lengths to perpetrate the fraud of denying and delaying veterans’ benefits and to bury the truth about what PTSD costs our military personnel, their families, America, humanity itself. For example, the VA says it denied Mary Kay PTSD disability benefits in 2005 because at that time she hadn’t completed a questionnaire that the VA didn’t send her until 2014, nine years later.

Dr. Jonathan Shay, perhaps the most distinguished psychiatrist ever to work at the VA, recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” resigned from the VA because he objected to its conduct. He told counselors at a Columbia University workshop that, “…the fact is the VA, I don’t think, really cared.”

Dr. Shay is not alone in his criticism. Watch the documentary film Thank You For Your Service, and listen for yourself as senior military and government officials describe the “crisis” caused by government’s refusal to provide needed military behavioral health care.

Cdr. Mark Russell, Ph.D. (RET), a Navy and Marine veteran, son of a Vietnam Marine combat pilot, calls this failure “an absolute betrayal.”

Psychological trauma is so integral to the human condition that it could be considered “the engine of history,” some researchers note. Evidence suggests that nothing is more important to understanding who we are as human beings than understanding what post-traumatic stress is and what it does to us.

The VA drives global post-traumatic stress research. For it to illegally deny and cover up the PTS wounds of veterans like Mary Kay might be considered not just a crime against humanity, but also humanity’s most dangerous crime against itself: a decision not to know the truth and be freed by it.

Raping Mary Kay offers something of a security camera record of a VA crime that is nothing less than institutional treason.

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Raping Mary Kay

This story is best told in pictures.

Begin by studying the first one. It was taken in 1982. Her name was Mary Kay Theisen. She was twenty-six years old, a U.S. Navy hospital corpswave and urology technician.

The dazed look in her eyes comes from what was happening to her. Her superior officer, “John Doe” (the Navy and VA know his name), was serially raping her, forcing drugs and alcohol on her as part of his assaults, threatening to kill her if she reported him.

The dope and booze were addling her mind when that picture was taken. Her lost expression, however, reflects something else: the signature brain damage of traumatic psychological injury. That Zombie Look—the Thousand Yard Stare—is as diagnostic as a missing limb. It shows that her mind was already gone, pithed by chronic violence and terror.

Hidden Wound

The trauma changed the physical structure of Mary Kay’s brain as surely as stepping on a land mine might have blown away a leg. As Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and leading PTSD expert puts it, rape re-calibrated Mary Kay’s alarm system. It increased her stress hormone activity. It altered the delicate system that filters relevant from irrelevant information. Ruin those filters, modern neuroscience shows, and you destroy one’s ability to function in the world.

Mary Kay was crippled by the time that picture was taken.

And the part of her brain that communicates her physical embodied feeling of being alive had also been severely damaged. In a sense, then, she was no longer entirely alive. Not as she had been, anyway. “Hurt beyond telling,” one researcher calls that look in her eyes. “Feelings that have no names,” as former Marine Corps officer David J. Morris puts it.

The clinical term for the catastrophe that befell Mary Kay: Military Sexual Trauma.

The wreck of Mary Kay came first from being brutally savaged by the merciless rape culture of the U.S. military. For women, serving in the military is like swimming in a shark tank where every man is a dorsal fin cutting the water’s surface.

Still, it is the decades-long institutional rape by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs that has made Mary Kay’s physical rape so much worse. It’s as though she escaped shark-invested waters to be left bleeding on the beach.

For more than 13 years, the VA has effectively covered up the Military Sexual Trauma that has crippled Mary Kay for four decades now. Practically speaking, that gives the U.S. Navy and the U.S. VA the character of organized gang rapists.

Now examine the second picture.

It was taken in 2016 at Saratoga WarHorse, an equine therapy program in upstate New York for veterans with PTSD. Mary Kay has just had a powerful experience with the mystical energy of that horse. But you can still see the haunted look in her eyes. The gang rapists of culture, and the memory of John Doe, yet stalk her in a way that would make the horse bolt.

Invisible War of the Disappeared Women

Hay una mujer desaparecida, goes the old Holy Near lament about Chilean women “disappeared”—exiled, tortured, raped and executed—by the junta of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Mary Kay is one of the countless “disappeared ones” referred to in the documentary film The Invisible War. The Invisible War describes pandemic rape in the U.S. military. The Invisible War is America’s junta.

Failed American military leadership and ineffectual Congressional oversight cause this junta. As the above documentary shows, rape in the military is simply not prosecuted. A few key points:

  • Navy brass winks at sexual assault and even stonewalls its Inspector General’s investigations.
  • Commanders in all the branches of service actively cover up rape investigations.
  • In 2010, of 3,223 apprehended rapists, only 175 went to jail.
  • 40% of homeless female veterans were raped while serving.
  • Male rapists rape men, too.
  • Rape ruins the lives of men just as it does women
  • More men than women get raped in the military, because there are more men.
  • In the year reported on about 20,000 men had been raped in the military.
  • A Navy study showed about twice the number of rapists in the military than in a comparable civilian population.
  • Rapists are serial offenders. They average 300 lifetime victims.
  • The military is a breeding ground for rapists. Because the military covers up their crime, they are able to perfect their techniques while serving, then stalk America’s streets after discharge, a clear and present danger of a different kind to national security.
  • In 2011, a civilian court dismissed a military rape survivors’ lawsuit, ruling rape is an occupational hazard of military service (thanks to military leadership complicity).

Mary Kay had the misfortune of being a striking young woman. Tall, long-legged, shock of flaming red hair. Doe once ordered her up on the roof of Balboa Navy Hospital in San Diego. His manner made her skin crawl, installed in her the permanent early warning system that psychotherapists call “hyper-vigilance.”

Unfortunately, Mary Kay was pretty.

Caressing her long tresses, Doe asked, “Is your pussy hair the same color.” Terror seized Mary Kay. She was afraid her boss might throw her off the roof if she rebuked him.

In boot camp Mary Kay was singled out with two other pretty young women and ordered to serve cake and punch at an admirals’ reception. A male officer told them that if the admirals demanded sex of them they were to obey.

In Okinawa, Mary Kay’s first foreign duty station, a huge Air Force enlisted man violently slammed her against a wall and sexually assaulted her.

Nevertheless, her determination to be the best U.S. Navy medical professional she could be sustained her for a long time.

In 1976, even after one of her basic training officers had tried to pimp her to admirals, her performance was stellar. When she was 20 years old, barely out of adolescence, she was promoted to head a night shift in the Dependent and Pediatric wards of the Bremerton Navy Hospital, because, according to her performance evaluations, she was “dependable, versatile, and hard working…accurate and punctual… an honest, sincere person who is loyal to friends, co-workers, and superiors. Her appearance is always immaculate and her manner is above reproach.”

She had much older personnel reporting to her. She was entrusted with the keys to the narcotics locker and was responsible for the life and death decision of supervising the proper dosage of patient medication. She performed urinalysis, cultures, semen samples for vasectomy patients, kept perfect lab records, was the preferred technician for catheterizing patients—especially children; kids loved her—the preferred assistant for cystoscopies, performed x-rays and tomography, started IVs for contrast material, assisted surgeons in all manor of minor and major operations, served with trauma teams on 24-hour watch.

Her official U.S. Navy 1976 Bremerton performance evaluation gave her the highest marks across the board. “Professional Performance,” “Military Behavior,” “Military Appearance,” and “Adaptability.”

Item 7 on that form, “Evaluation of Performance,” recorded: “HN Theisen is an intelligent, capable Corpswave. She assumes responsibility and performs effectively, although in many situations she has had minimal experience or instruction. I have complete confidence in her dependability. In a doubtful situation, she asks advice, and never extends beyond the limits of her medical education. However, she is eager to learn and voluntarily seeks further knowledge in the medical field. The entire staff of ward M enjoys working with HN Theisen. She consistently volunteers to help nurses and co-workers in addition to assigned duties. She has a sweet personality and contributes greatly to the general morale of the ward.”

Mary Kay’s official 1980 evaluation at Balboa Naval Hospital San Diego gave her the same glowing score.

Item 7: “HM3 Theisen has been extremely effective in dealing with our patients, Doctors, technicians and students. She is an efficient O.J.T. [on-the-job trainee] with a desire to learn and do a good job. She maintains good working organization and provides service to all hands impartially and competently. She requires very minimum or no supervision at all in her assigned tasks. HM3 Theisen is recommended for re-enlistment and advancement when eligible.”

Item 8: “HM3 Theisen gets along exceptionally with our doctors and technicians. She looks very impressive and wears her Naval uniform with great pride at all times.”

Indeed, the blouse she is wearing in the 1982 photograph was one she had tailor-made in Okinawa. She was still fighting for her Navy medical career, but it was a losing battle.

Self-Medicated Wonder Woman

Mary Kay’s exemplary 1980 evaluations were drug-aided. She had the keys to the drug locker of her life. She self-medicated to control the anxiety and panic attacks she suffered from the Okinawa assault; from the constant fear of rape; and from the constant sexual harassment. (When no one was around one Navy doctor grabbed her, groped her, and plunged his tongue in her mouth.)

In a desperate attempt to keep functioning Mary Kay used cocaine to boost her confidence and blunt her terror, speed for energy and concentration, marijuana, Valium and sometimes alcohol after work to calm her nerves. And magic psilocybin mushrooms to take her worlds away.

She became addicted and succumbed to an emotional roller coaster.

After Okinawa, stationed in San Diego, Mary Kay’s mental health finally collapsed. She attempted suicide and was rushed to the hospital. Cocaine and amphetamines were found in her purse.

A Misfit

Based on VA rules of evidence, Mary Kay’s January-July 1981 performance evaluation records prove that her Military Sexual Trauma destroyed her mental health and ability to function. In the space of a year her “Professional Performance” rating dropped from the highest, “Extremely effective and reliable,” to the lowest, “Inadequate. Needs constant supervision.” Predictably, her adaptability rating followed the same path, plummeting from an A grade, “Gets along exceptionally well. Promotes good morale,” to an F grade, “A misfit.”

Item 7, “Evaluation of Performance:” “HM3 Theisen was unable to rotate through the different areas of the clinic due to the fact that her personal problems and personality conflicts have interfered with her job performance. Her lack of confidence within herself was displayed to staff as well as patients, resulting in her assignment to a non-patient care area. She has also proved to staff her lack of expertise and ability to perform normal functions of a Urology Technician requiring constant supervision. Member is felt at this time not to be a candidate for re-enlistment or retention in the Naval service.”

Item 8, comments justifying Item 7 findings: “1) Member is unable to perform routine tasks of Urology Technicians. 2) Member would frequently argue with superiors. 3) Member during this reporting period has not been able to get along with others. 4) Member is not able to accept professional technical advice from equals or seniors. 5) It was felt that member’s problems came from outside this department with many alternatives offered by this department with no success.”

Again, the VA’s own rules and guidelines essentially make that report an X-ray of the behavioral and hidden tissue damage done to Mary Kay by her Military Sexual Trauma.

Bad as her January-July 1981 performance evaluation report was, however, the worst was yet to come.

Her Superior was Her Rapist

Mary Kay entered drug and alcohol rehabilitation at nearby Miramar Naval Air Station and completed the seven-week program so successfully that they asked her to become a counselor herself. She wanted to return to her medical career.

Doe was waiting for her at the rehab clinic door. He told her he would continue as her recovery supervisor and ordered her to get in his car. He told her to forget what she had just learned in rehab, that she could use drugs and alcohol “in moderation.”

Doe opened his glove compartment, showed Mary Kay a black revolver, and told her he would kill her if she didn’t do as he said. He ordered her to let him rape her and to use drugs and alcohol with him. He drove her directly from rehab to his marijuana dealer and ordered her to smoke marijuana with him in the dealer’s garage. Then he took her to his barracks room, ordered her to drink alcohol with him, and then he raped her. That’s when she completely lost her mind.

She felt like Mia Farrow in the movie Rosemary’s Baby. Devils surrounded her.

Doe’s serial rapes and forced substance abuse began a nightmare for Mary Kay that she’s still living. Drinking in his car once when he drove Mary Kay to his house to rape her, Doe had to pull over so he could vomit beside the road.

Mary Kay was assigned a security job prior to being cleared to return to medical work. Her security boss, also a recovering alcoholic, asked her why she had stopped attending AA meetings. She broke down and told him about Doe. She told him about Doe’s friend, too, a six-foot four-inch, muscular, barrel-chested giant with red hair and a red mustache, a karate black belt, who kept telling Mary Kay, “I want to fuck you, too.”

Her boss ordered her to report Doe. She did, and Doe was tried and convicted. Mary Kay’s security boss reported karate kid, who then got transferred to Guam, one of the Navy’s worst duty assignments.

Her Brain on Military Sexual Trauma

But Mary Kay’s Navy career was over. Trauma had wrecked her mind and destroyed her ability to concentrate and function. She could no longer perform as she had as a 20-year-old to save her life. The Navy and John Doe had used her up. Her injury was actually as physical as a lost limb. You just couldn’t see it. Except in her eyes, and then only if you knew what you were looking for.

Now look at the third picture.

Participants in a PTSD art therapy retreat that Mary Kay attended in 2015 were given Styrofoam heads to portray their inner life of trauma.

(Art therapy functions as a kind of chelation treatment for psychological trauma. It literally scours hidden experiences from the cells and runs them through the brain’s hippocampus where they’re alchemized into mere memories rather than ever-lurking boogey men.)

Mary Kay decorated her head with the pretty mask she always wore to hide her pain. Somehow that flushed out the pain. That’s what the black lightning bolt cutting her face in half represents.

Mary Kay was honorably discharged from the Navy in June 1983, but under an RE-4 reenlistment code, meaning she was an unwanted Misfit.

Her final evaluation noted that she had become “careless about her work and military appearance,” and that she “has shown a careless disregard for her superior officers and a laxity in carrying out orders and has been counseled in her military bearing.”

That put it mildly.

A superior caught Mary Kay walking outside the hospital wearing scrubs—instead of the requisite white blouse and black skirt or slacks—and ordered her to change.

“Fuck you!” said Mary Kay.

“Fuck you,” said the woman who once wore her uniform with such pride that she had her blouses tailor-made (“She looks very impressive and wears her Naval uniform with great pride at all times,” wrote Capt. McCarthy).

“Fuck you!” said the woman who once loved the order of military service and looked forward to a 30-year career, the woman who used to love rendering the courtesy of a snappy salute to officers because it meant she was part of a great team on the noble mission of freedom.

“Fuck you!” she said. That was her brain on Military Sexual Trauma.

The VA’s Continuing Institutional Rape

The VA’s 2016 Military Sexual Trauma Compensation Bulletin cites 10 criteria for establishing disabling Military Sexual Trauma. The facts in Mary Kay’s case satisfy nine of those criteria. The VA’s failure to apply its own rules of evidence to Mary Kay’s case is one reason that her case is a textbook example of the VA’s criminal betrayal of America’s veterans. And criminal is the right word if it’s a crime to violate the law.

The other reason is that Mary Kay’s military experience, and her subsequent experience with the VA, make her a poster veteran for the legions of lost men and women who set out to serve their country only to be caught in the trauma ambush of a mindless, heartless system that blows their sanity to hell.

Mary Kay is Everyveteran.

Her experience epitomizes the cynical refrain of veterans applying for VA benefits:

“First you apply, then they deny, then you die.”

Such cynicism is inevitable. In the powerful 2016 documentary film, Thank You For Your Service, senior military and government leaders form a chorus in denouncing the American military and government for ignoring the ruinous, often-fatal traumatic injury suffered by veterans like Mary Kay. In that film, retired Brig. Gen. Laurie Sutton, Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman from 2007-2011, (RET), former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, U.S, Army Vice Chief of Staff 2008-2012 (RET), retired Army psychiatrist Col. Charles W. Hoge, and Cdr. Mark Russell, Ph.D. (RET), a Navy and Marine veteran, all fault the military for turning its back on those traumatically wounded in the service of their country. “As a Marine,” says Dr./Cdr. Russell, “it made me feel like that was an absolute betrayal.”

That’s really what Mary Kay’s story is about: American service personnel betrayed by their own leaders. Mary Kay’s story is a summary of that betrayal.

Discharged as a “misfit” in 1983, she soon learned just how much of a misfit she was. She returned to school, but the way Military Sexual Trauma had broken her mind prevented her from concentrating and she dropped out. This is a typical PTSD experience. What good is the GI Bill if traumatic injury leaves you ineducable?

Looking for a safe haven, Mary Kay entered into what became a loveless marriage that quickly degenerated into a profoundly unhappy, emotionally abusive ordeal of 29 years. She had three children, repeatedly tried to work, but couldn’t. The stress of dealing with the public triggered her and she repeatedly had to be taken off by ambulance because panic attacks made her think she was dying of a heart attack.

She spent time in Spokane’s Sacred Heart Hospital psychiatric ward because of near-fatal depression.

Based on the scientific literature and the VA’s later admission (an admission the agency has yet to act on), Mary Kay’s school and work history alone prove that her Military Sexual Trauma permanently disabled her. She is a textbook example of what the VA calls Total and Permanent disability. And she exemplifies the lengths to which the VA goes to cover up this devastating wound.

It is a wound that cripples not only our veterans, it also infects those around them exactly as alcoholism does. Because of this social communicability, PTSD is infectious, note Doctors Richard Rockefeller and Larry Brilliant, two of the world’s leading public health authorities.

The VA also understands this perfectly well. It’s covering it up. Thus, it is an agent of what is likely the deadliest disease facing society.

A paper submitted at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 annual meeting found that “unemployment is the biggest predictor of PTSD symptom severity.”

Mary Kay’s rape left her unemployable.

“Symptoms of PTSD impair one’s ability to function in the workplace and in society and to hold meaningful relationships because of the effect of trauma on the brain and the way one responds to stress and emotional information,” noted Dr. James W. Murrough, a psychiatrist, in his 2014 APA paper.

Please remember this next time you see a forlorn soul begging on a street corner, holding up the ubiquitous cardboard sign: Homeless veteran. Anything helps. God bless.

In 1983, the Navy itself ruled Mary Kay an irredeemably broken “misfit” incapable of performing duties at which she had once excelled. Again, the evidence that her injury resulted from her Military Sexual Trauma satisfies VA rules of evidence, as set forth in its 2016 Military Trauma Compensation Guidelines bulletin.

Mary Kay’s life was so broken by the U.S. Navy and John Doe that they may as well have dumped her in an ally when they got done with her. They killed her spirit, just not her body.

Mary Kay lived in constant fear that John Doe would track her down and make good on his murder threats. Even today her heart leaps into her throat whenever she sees a man who reminds her of Doe. The resulting panic—terrifying memories, racing heart, shortness of breath, doomed feeling—can last a day or more.

She reads male energy the way a Geiger counter reads radioactivity. The beast of rape is everywhere.

Mary Kay took Self- & Home-Defense firearms training. She always kept a Smith & Wesson .38 or a .40 Cal. Glock within reach. The class taught her a magic known to every infantryman: concealment. It also taught her about “center-of-mass” and the way to engage someone who enters your home uninvited.

But the .38 turned out to be a bargain with the devil. She put it in her mouth one day and almost pulled the trigger. It was only thoughts of the cleft pallet surgeries needed by her three-year-old son that kept her from doing it.

Suicidal, depressed and panic-stricken, in desperation Mary Kay sought mental health counseling at the Spokane VA Hospital in 2004. Her counselor diagnosed her with PTSD and advised her to submit a claim for benefits. In October of that year she did.

Now it Was The VA’s Turn to Abuse Her

In July 2005 the VA denied her claim with a letter blaming her problems on her. Mary Kay referred to that response as her “slut letter.” It blamed her Military Sexual Trauma—the rapes, the drugging and murder threats—on her.

In a daze Mary Kay stumbled on with her life for six more years. A demon inside her kept whispering that she should kill herself. She came close many times. Crippling depression drove her back to the VA in 2011 for more mental health counseling.

That’s when Mary Kay’s second VA mental health counselor diagnosed her with PTSD. “You should resubmit your benefits claim,” she told her. The evidence clearly showed that Mary Kay’s Military Sexual Trauma entitled her to a substantial benefits award. Mary Kay dragged her feet. She couldn’t believe the VA would do the right thing. She couldn’t bear being called a slut again.

After more than a year Mary Kay relented and resubmitted her benefits claim. What happened next continues her nightmare. It also epitomizes the endless tragedy that the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs is visiting on America’s veterans and their families.

The VA’s Game

When a year went by with no word about her claim Mary Kay’s Veteran Service Officer asked the VA what was going on. The VA had lost her claim. In January 2014 she submitted it again.

Time dragged on. Every day was a fight with depression and thoughts of suicide. She had panic attacks at least three times a week. Sometimes she had them daily.

Finally, on September 18, 2015, the VA admitted that its June 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s original October 2004 benefits application was wrong. The 2005 ruling contained “fatal errors,” said the VA. The VA acknowledged that, “the previous decision was clearly and unmistakably erroneous.” Warming to its mea culpa, the VA elaborated that, “reasonable minds could only conclude that, the previous decision was fatally flawed at the time it was made.”

But the zeal of that confession did not include an explanation of the “fatal” mistake. What was it? And the confessor, as is the case in 99.9% of Mary Kay’s VA correspondence, was anonymous.

And then the kicker. Or rather, Kicker #1. The VA’s mystery judge concluded that Mary Kay was only 50% disabled, not totally disabled as the Navy concluded when it expelled her in 1983, because her mortal psyche could not withstand the brutality to which it had been subjected, because her Military Sexual Trauma had turned her into a “Misfit.” Kicker #2: the VA improperly backdated her benefits payments only to January 2014, the date it finally received her second appeal.

Based on VA regulations, there are actually three violations in the VA’s 11-year late admission of its “fatally flawed” ruling on Mary Kay’s 2004 claim.

First, the VA notes that it is required to backdate benefits payments to the original date of filing. In Mary Kay’s case that would be October 26, 2004.

Second, the VA notes that it is required to backdate benefits to the proven date of disability. If, say, an applicant lost a leg in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon that would be the proven date of disability. In Mary Kay’s case, the proven date of disability is June 17, 1983. That is the date on which the U.S. Navy recorded in her file that, “Member is being released from active duty” for the reason that she had become a “Misfit.” And the reason for that, her military record showed, is that her Military Sexual Trauma had destroyed her mental health and ability to perform her military duties.

Third, the VA notes that in adjudicating claims it is required by federal law to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. The law is CFR 38 Section 4.3.

During the 14-year-long Ground Hog Day in which Mary Kay has filed her many claims for VA benefits she has given the VA permission to review all of her military records. Those records will show that she subjected John Doe to military prosecution for raping, drugging, and threatening to kill her. Doe’s records will show that he was convicted. Mary Kay’s records also document the physical injuries she suffered from her sexual assaults while on active duty. Her records also prove that the psychological injuries caused by her Military Sexual Trauma led her to substance abuse and attempted suicide.

If any of those documents are missing—those of the Doe’s trial, for instance—it can only be because they are among the records that the VA Inspector General found the VA has improperly destroyed. That would make them part of the VA gulag’s history of the disappeared.

But even that doesn’t matter, because of the evidence standards set out by the VA in its 2016 MST Compensation Bulletin.

“VA knows,” stipulates that bulletin, “that events involving sexual trauma are not always officially reported. Therefore, for PTSD claims related to MST VA has relaxed the evidentiary requirements and looks for “markers” (i.e., signs, events, or circumstances) that provide some indication that the traumatic event happened.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Records from law enforcement authorities, rape crisis centers, mental health counseling centers, hospitals, or physicians
  • Pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Statements from family members, roommates, fellow Service members, clergy members, or counselors
  • Requests for transfer to another military duty assignment
  • Deterioration in work performance
  • Substance abuse
  • Episodes of depression, panic attacks, or anxiety without an identifiable cause
  • Unexplained economic or social behavioral changes
  • Relationship issues, such as divorce
  • Sexual dysfunction.”

The only one of those markers missing from Mary Kay’s case is a request for transfer to another duty assignment.

Mary Kay and I

I met Mary Kay on October 31, 2015, at an event called “The Welcome.” It was the public presentation portion of the art therapy retreat that I helped found in Spokane, WA, for military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma.

At The Welcome, retreat participants use their art to help tell their stories to members of the public. Citizens come to truly thank them for their service by listening to what happened to them. This helps to shoulder the burdens of the veterans’ trauma. This “communalizing” of their hidden wounds makes traumatized veterans feel a little less alone. Ending their isolation can ease thoughts of suicide and help them find new reasons to live.

I had taken part in The Welcome two years earlier at Pendle Hill, an old Quaker retreat center near Philadelphia. There were 14 participants: seven male combat veterans like me, seven women survivors of Military Sexual Trauma. The women’s stories broke my heart and filled me with rage. “I want to take scalps,” I thought.

I promised myself if I ever had a chance to help a woman with Military Sexual Trauma I would. Mary Kay gave me that chance.

I listened with the rest of The Welcome audience to Mary Kay tell her harrowing story. Like everyone else, I was moved to grief and tears by her account, and courage in sharing it.

The Welcome follows a retreat using art therapy to help traumatized veterans access, and then express, the festering memories of war and rape. This is the art that participants share with the audience as a way of expressing feelings that have no words.

Before being raped, drugged and threatened with murder Mary Kay was known for her bright, positive, optimistic attitude. One of her doctors called her “Sunshine.” “Her attitude toward patients is of kindness and compassion and her relationship with her co-workers is excellent,” reads her 1979 performance evaluation… she has been able to transform a difficult area into an extremely pleasant working space.” Painting these shoes at the PTSD retreat helped Mary Kay remember how she had once been.

As a professional journalist who has passionately researched the PTSD I brought home from Vietnam in order to grasp at the straws of my own sanity and save my own life, I know what psychiatrist Judith Herman says about Mary Kay’s “psychiatric disease.” In her book, Trauma and Recovery, Dr. Herman cites the scientific evidence that “rape trauma syndrome” is basically the same thing as PTSD. Both injuries often ruin the mind in ways that can make normal life impossible. Those of us who carry these invisible traumatic injuries that are common to military service live in a kind of invisible tomb. We’re like the Unknown Soldier “known unto God.”

“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye,” WWI soldier/poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote in Suicide In The Trenches, “sneak home and pray you’ll never know the hell where youth and laughter go.”

Because the VA’s notorious brokenness effectively abandons traumatically injured veterans like Mary Kay, we walking wounded can only stumble forward in a desperate attempt to find our way out of the frightening and dangerous wilderness of PTSD. For many of us, unemployment and financial destitution make that impossible. You see us on street corners holding up our pathetic cardboard signs begging for help. And then you don’t see us anymore…

Manslaughter VA Style

“Prosody of the evidence” is an elegant legal phrase I once heard a lawyer use. I take it to mean a rhythm of facts that resonates with that mysterious tuning fork in the soul where music-as-the-language-of-God is heard; the truth that we shall know and be freed by; the secret chord of actual reality that plucks the heartstrings in a way words can’t.

For me, the VA has tortured the evidence in Mary Kay’s case until it screams. Its prosody clearly convicts the VA of institutional rape—with its confession of making “fatally flawed” errors the VA effectively admits this. When the VA tortures evidence this way and a veteran commits suicide before the VA properly decides on his or her benefits I consider the agency guilty of manslaughter.

For me, the VA has blood on its hands. But please don’t think me self-righteous for saying so. I have blood on my hands, too. I was a door gunner on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam.

The VA’s hit men and women are bureaucratic mercenaries.

For me, the VA’s hit men and women are bureaucratic mercenaries who are willing to accept society’s bounty to deny the holocaust of traumatic injury caused by military service. Again, don’t get me wrong. No bureaucrat ever executed civic indoctrination better than I. While my contemporaries had the moral maturity to protest the Vietnam War, I, son of a WW II Marine who served in the Pacific, volunteered for the draft, volunteered for Vietnam, actually fought to get into combat.

It’s my opinion that denying the hell of traumatic injury is the ultimate crime against humanity, because it is humanity’s crime against itself. It is this crime, I believe, that’s behind the never-ending exposés of VA corruption and incompetence. Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

Because I will carry to my grave the psychological traumatic injury I brought home from Vietnam, I insist on my right to name it: it’s a devastating wound to my ability to trust. This is the nastiest poison there is for any social creature. Loss of trust costs you social connection, but not your life-or-death need for it. It leaves you with a mad longing for and fear of the connection that is life itself.

At the personal level, traumatic injury is as perfect a hell as I can imagine. Socially, the pandemic behavioral harm caused by war is clearly far worse than the Bubonic Plague.

This is a crime of cultural denial, mother of all juntas. We can’t handle the truth! to paraphrase Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men. My hunch is that the unfunded liability of psychologically traumatic military injury terrifies the government’s bean counters. How in the world can we afford a military if we have to supply prosthetics to all those who are behaviorally wounded in the service of our country? And how about all of those whom, in their terrible woundedness, the traumatically wounded wound? Figure in those costs and see how war pencils out.

No wonder, at the outset of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, military and government leaders ignored the plea for more robust military behavioral health care referred to in the documentary film, Thank You For Your Service.

Denial, as they say in AA, isn’t just a river in Egypt.

No wonder Dr./Cdr. Mark Russell complained: “As a Marine, it made me feel like that was an absolute betrayal.”

RAP Sheet

The criminal lengths to which the VA goes to hide from the American people the true cost of military traumatic injuries can be seen in the history of Mary Kay’s applications and appeals for PTSD benefits.

Again, I use the word “criminal” advisedly. The evidence in Mary Kay’s case exposes either criminal negligence or criminal intent on the part of the VA. Mary Kay’s case is a kangaroo court history of selective total blindness, losing records, partial blindness, contradiction, incoherence, evidence tampering, willful total blindness again, followed by interminable delay. The VA’s treatment of Mary Kay entails a willful violation of the law that the VA acknowledges requires it to give Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt. The “prosody of the evidence” shows that the VA denies Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt.

It’s as though the VA is saying, “Yes, we know what a stop sign means. Yes, we see the sign. Yes, we are choosing to run it. Yes, we understand that our actions maim and kill innocent people.”

Fact Summary

  1. October 26, 2004: Mary Kay first applies for PTSD benefits, based on the recommendation of her VA mental health counselor.
  2. June 12, 2005: VA claims processors override the PTSD diagnosis by Mary Kay’s VA mental health counselor and deny her benefits application.
  3. Late 2012 or early 2013: Based on the advice of a second VA mental health counselor, Mary Kay appeals her 2005 denial.
  4. January 2014: After a year of no action, the VA admits it has lost Mary Kay’s appeal.
  5. January 2014: Mary Kay resubmits her appeal.
  6. September 18, 2015: VA admits its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s claim was wrong. That ruling contained “fatal errors,” admits the VA, acknowledging that, “the previous decision was clearly and unmistakably erroneous.” This ruling awards Mary Kay 50% PTSD disability because of her Military Sexual Trauma. However, it ignores evidence that it will later acknowledge. Namely, that Mary Kay was left totally and permanently disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma. Also, it improperly backdates her benefits award only to January 27, 2014, the date the agency finally received her appeal. Again, according to VA regulations, the proper award date is either the date she applied for benefits, October 2004, or the proven date of disability onset, June 1983, the date the Navy discharged her as a “Misfit” because of the behavioral injury provably resulting from her Military Sexual Trauma.
  7. December 17, 2015: Mary Kay appeals the September 18, 2015 benefits award because it ignores evidence of her 100% disability and its onset.
  8. Undetermined date: Mary Kay’s Military Order of the Purple Heart Veteran Service Officer, John Stine, submits an application for something he calls “Individual Unemployability.” Apparently, this designation would give Mary Kay her full VA PTSD disability benefits while disentangling her from the red tape that had snared her for 11 years.
  9. April 13, 2016: Mary Kay learns that John Stine, her Veteran Service Officer, has been fired because of improper conduct with women clients. Mary Kay recalls certain comments Stine made to her. Feeling surrounded by devils again, she becomes hysterical in the Spokane Veterans Outreach Center.
  10. May 18, 2016: Mary Kay emails Seattle VA MST Outreach Coordinator Rochelle Mantanona an advance copy of a letter that she is sending to VA Secretary Robert McDonald requesting his personal assistance. The letter contains conclusive proof of Mary Kay’s Total and Permanent disability from Military Sexual Trauma and the date of its onset.
  11. May 23, 2016: Dr. Rita Flannigan conducts a Compensation and Pension examination of Mary Kay in the Spokane VA Hospital. Mary Kay gives her the McDonald letter to be entered into evidence.
  12. May 25, 2016: Mary Kay sends VA Secretary Robert McDonald the detailed evidentiary letter that I helped her write. Again, it details evidence irrefutably conforming to VA guidelines showing that she has been totally disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma since her 1983 discharge from the Navy. “I am writing to you personally,” she explains to Secy. McDonald, “because I am desperate. I have been lost in the VA system for twelve years now…”
  13. May 25, 2016: In a presumably recorded conversation, Rochelle Montanona of the Seattle VA benefits office interviews Mary Kay by phone as part of her latest benefits appeal, telling her that she is “authorized to take evidence” in her case. Montanona confirms receipt of the McDonald letter and promises to have it included as evidence in her appeal.
  14. June 13, 2016: VA upgrades Mary Kay’s disability rating to 70%, ignoring evidence of her 100% disability that she has submitted. It backdates her 70% benefits payments only to March 2, 2016, not June 17, 1983, the proven onset date of her service-connected disability. Both the incorrect disability percentage rating and benefit back payment ruling violate CFR 38 Section 4.3, the federal law requiring the VA to grant Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt. (The VA will later effectively admit this violation in its September 5, 2017 ruling on Mary Kay’s appeal.)
  15. October 3, 2016: Mary Kay writes Secy. McDonald again, appealing for his direct intervention, and files yet another Notice of Disagreement with the VA’s improper rulings on her benefits claims.
  16. October 14, 2016: With my help, Mary Kay emails the VA’s Helen Morgenstern to make a record of her struggle with the VA. Here’s the full exchange.

Dear Ms. Morgenstern: Just before this email from you arrived yesterday I was in a “Psychoeducational Shame Resilience” class at the Spokane, WA, Veterans Outreach Center, listening to, among other things, “Ann” tell of how she and two of her sisters were raped when they were in the military, and how one of them was chloroformed and dumped unconscious into a dumpster after the assault.

Of course it’s hard for me to hear stories like “Ann’s.” First, because they’re so heartbreaking. Second, because they trigger the memories of my own Naval rapes that are stored in the hundred trillion cells of my body. But hearing these stories is also healing: they let me know that I am not alone; that the depression, panic attacks, inability to function like a “normal” person, and thoughts of suicide that constantly stalk me are normal. Finally—and this is the big thing—I experience the medicine of compassion from my fellow Military Sexual Trauma “survivors.”

That medicine contrasts sharply from the VA’s cold “psychotherapy” and deadening drugs, and from the robocalls I get from the VA “National Veterans Crisis Line.” I’ve had seven VCL calls since Wednesday, 10/12/16, when I emailed VA OCC Management Analyst Stacey (no last name) in connection with my 10/3/16 Notice of Disagreement (Ref. 346MN; File Number: xxxx) regarding my application for PTSD benefits.

The thing about compassion is you really can’t fake it. This is because of something called the “integral membrane protein” in each of our hundred trillion cells. (See Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief.) It’s an on/off switch activated by the body’s own electricity. And it makes each of our cells a little brain. And it’s the organic mechanism of what we call vibes and gut feelings.

I can explain this to you—and why I’m not taking the VCL’s calls, and why I want nothing more to do with VA “mental health counselors” and the sanity-threatening drugs they dispense—only because I have the help of a friend who is a professional journalist. He’s helping me with this letter, as he did with my 5/25/16 letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald (attached) and my 10/3/16 Notice of Disagreement (attached), and as he will continue to help me until the VA finally rules fairly on all the evidence I have submitted of the 100% Total and Permanent Disability caused by my Military Sexual Trauma. My friend was ruled by the VA last year to be 100% disabled by the PTSD resulting from his Vietnam service, and so—to his regret—he knows a lot more about PTSD than he wishes he did. To help with his own PTSD management he studies PTSD passionately, and he tries to help other veterans like me with their PTSD.

My friend helps me understand that my distrust of the VA is also normal, and rational, and reflexive because the integral membrane proteins in my cells recoil from the way the VA has treated me, subjecting me to medicine that violates the Hippocratic Oath and effectively making itself complicit in the crimes that were committed against me by ignoring the evidence of those crimes and how they permanently disabled me. My journalist friend also points out that, as Dr. Judith Herman explains in her book, Trauma and Recovery, Rape Trauma Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are clinically identical. And so, of course, they cause the “psychiatric disease” that causes twice the incidence of suicide of any other mental condition.

Assuming your offer to help me is sincere, Ms. Morgenstern, I ask that you do everything you can to cause my application for PTSD benefits to be fairly and promptly ruled upon. I’ll be deeply grateful for any help you can give me.

Sincerely, Mary Kay McCollum

P.S. As with my other correspondence, this message is being widely copied in order to make a record.


On Oct 13, 2016, at 4:38 PM, Morgenstern, Helen <> wrote:

Hi Ms. McCollum,

The National Veterans Crisis Line is outreaching to you in an effort to offer you emotional support.  It has been reported that you are having a difficult time currently and we would like to see how we can assist.  I see that you are located in the (redacted) area.  We are connected with Suicide Prevention Coordinators in every VA and they help Veteran’s connect to mental health services, locally.  You are welcomed to call the SPC’s directly.  They can be reached at  xxxx.

Please do not hesitate to contact the VCL at 1-800-273-8255, press 1 for Veterans or chat at –



VCL Responder

  1. May 18, 2017: VA letter telling Mary Kay, “Though you feel that you have total and occupational and social impairment due to your PTSD, the medical evidence reviewed does not support this contention.” This letter hits Mary Kay as hard as the VA’s “slut letter” that blamed her Military Sexual Trauma on her. All of the appeals that I have helped her apply since the first letter to former VA Secy. McDonald perfectly satisfy VA criteria showing that she is permanently disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma. In less than three months the VA itself will admit this. But it will go on trying to cover up the government’s true liability to Mary Kay for what John Doe, the U.S. Navy and the VA have done to her.
  2. May 24, 2017: Mary Kay receives a letter from the VA that says, “Thank you for submitting an application for VA benefits, which we received on May 14, 2015. No further action required at this time.” No explanation was given for why this acknowledgement was two years in coming.
  3. July 13, 2017: Mary Kay submits to her third Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination. As soon as the examiner greets her Mary Kay has a nervous breakdown. She cries hysterically during the examination. The VA has been burying the crimes against her for 13 years. Every time VA puts her through another hoop like this it triggers memories of her Navy nightmare and the nightmare stories she has heard from other Military Sexual Trauma survivors: brutal, interminable gang rapes that left women bloody and torn, women drugged unconscious and dumped afterward, like murder victims. During the time Mary Kay has fought with the VA the Navy sailed under the banner “A Global Force For Good.” The VA slung such slogans as “Putting Veterans First.” For Mary Kay the VA has become Abu Ghraib.
  4. September 5, 2017: VA grants Mary Kay “Individual Unemployability” with the same monthly disability payment as a 100% PTSD rating. In bureaucratic jargon that defies lay understanding, the letter cites notes from Mary Kay’s July 13 C&P exam: “… your service connected condition severely effects [sic] potential occupation activities. As you meet the scheduler criteria for consideration of entitlement to individual unemployability, and as we concede, based on your employment and education history, and your level of service-connected disability, that it would likely be difficult for you to obtain and maintain gainful employment, entitlement to individual unemployability is granted.” The new benefit payments are backdated to March 16, 2016, not June 13, 1983, as required by benefit-of-the-doubt CFR 38, Section 4.3. The letter goes on to “Note: This rating does not address claims submitted for the effective date and evaluation of your PTSD conditions. These issues will be addressed by the appeals process in a separate decision.” Why, after these 13 long years, those issues weren’t resolved in this ruling the anonymous author didn’t say. What the author did say, however, contradicted earlier VA findings in Mary Kay’s case and distorted the evidence so badly—and so absurdly—as to make a fair ruling in her case impossible. “You claimed PTSD in a statement received on October 26, 2004,” wrote the invisible VA author. “On November 15, 2014, we sent a letter requesting specific details about the personal trauma incident(s) that resulted in PTSD, and sent you a PTSD questionnaire to complete to send back. As of June 21, 2005, the date of the rating decision, we had not received any of the requested information. Therefore, the decision to deny PTSD was based on the evidence of record at the time…” That is why Mary Kay experiences the VA as Abu Ghraib instead of an entity that gives veterans the benefit of the doubt and puts them first. And that is why VA seems like an asylum taken over by lunatics: VA denied her benefits in 2005 because by that time she hadn’t completed and returned a questionnaire VA didn’t send her until 2014, nine years later?
  5. October 6, 2017: Mary Kay submits two more appeals, yet another Notice of Disagreement and something called a Form 9 Appeal. The gist of these appeals is to point out the factual errors and logical nonsense in the VA’s decisions that are inane at best, sinister at worst. These errors are explained below.
  6. October 6, 2017: I submit yet another Statement In Support of Claim, my third, for Mary Kay. Using sharp language and exaggerated redundancy, it points out the same stupid or evil mistakes highlighted by Mary Kay’s appeals. The difference is that I express my outrage at the VA for treating a fellow veteran as it has Mary Kay. It, too, is summarized below.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Mary Kay’s October 6, 2017 Notice of Disagreement exposes the briar patch of errors in VA’s rulings. Calling those errors babble would be charitable.

Mary Kay showed how the VA had ignored some 12 thousand words of evidence satisfying VA rules proving that she had been totally disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma since she was raped in the Navy and discharged in 1983 because of the harm it did to her.

Mary Kay showed how the VA’s September 2017 ruling contradicted its September 2015 ruling. In September 2015, the VA admitted its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s benefits was “fatally flawed” and that “reasonable minds could only conclude that the previous decision was fatally flawed at the time it was made.”

In 2017 the VA retracted its 2015 admission by introducing a sinister factual error. It told Mary Kay that in her December 30, 2015 appeal, “you stated that the denial of your PTSD condition in the June 21, 2005 rating was a clear and unmistakable error.” Mary Kay pointed out that she said no such thing. In her December 2015 appeal she noted that just two months before, in September 2015, it was the VA that admitted its 2005 denial was “fatally flawed.”

Its September 2017 ruling is where the VA resorted to elaborate double talk and distorted dates that make no sense. Disinformation, if you will.

Regarding its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s benefits the VA said, “PTSD was denied based on the evidence of record at the time. You claimed PTSD in a statement on October 26, 2004. On November 15, 2014 [10 years later!], we sent you a PTSD questionnaire to complete and send back. As of June 21, 2005, the date of the rating decision [10 years before she could have received and answered the 2014 questionnaire!], we had not received any of the requested information. Therefore, the decision to deny PTSD was based on evidence of record at the time, and is not clearly and unmistakably erroneous.”

Garbage in, garbage out.

First, the VA says that it denied benefits to Mary Kay in 2004 because she didn’t satisfy conditions that were impossible for her to meet—namely, she didn’t answer questions in 2004 that weren’t sent to her until 2014.

Second, it retracts its admission of “fatally flawed” denial of Mary Kay’s benefits based on fatally flawed logic. It compounds this error by asserting that what it had earlier admitted was a fatally flawed decision can be restored to life with another fatally flawed decision.

More profoundly, the VA here argues that its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s benefits “was based on evidence on record at the time.” That is as wrong as wrong can be.

Evidence on record at the time, which she gave VA permission to review in her original 2004 claim, proved that she was a victim of Military Sexual Trauma, that one of her perpetrators had been convicted of the crime, and that the crime so completely disabled Mary Kay that she could no longer perform her military duties, that the Navy discharged her for that very reason, and that she has never been able to complete her education or support herself since Navy rapes destroyed her mental health.

Mary Kay noted that by tying the simple facts of her case into a Gordian knot used to wrongfully deny her benefits, the VA violates the federal law (CFR 38, Section 4.3) that it acknowledges requires it to give her the benefit of the doubt. Thus, not only is the VA violating that law, it continues to use the smoke screen of fatally flawed reasoning to cover up its crime.

This is the Ponzi scheme of government corruption—cover-ups, and cover-ups of cover-ups, and cover-ups of cover-up cover-ups.

Mary Kay points out in her October 2017 Notice of Disagreement that the VA finally acknowledges her Total and Permanent disability when it writes in its September 2017 award letter, “…and as we concede, based on your employment and education history, and your level of service-connected disability, that it would likely be difficult for you to obtain and maintain gainful employment, entitlement to individual unemployability is granted.”

Translation #1: The “employment and education history, and your level of service-connected disability” evidence that the VA ignored in 2005 when it denied Mary Kay benefits, that it 50% ignored in 2015 when it awarded her 50% disability, and that it ignored 30% in June 2016 and May 2017 when it set her disability at 70%, it was finally dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge and put her disability at 100%  a little more than three months later in September 2017.

VA still, however, improperly set her back pay, putting it at March 16, 2016, 33 years after the proven onset of her disability.

“First you apply, then they deny, then you die.”

Translation #2: Given what it has finally admitted, there is no way VA can obey its own guidelines and the law and not give Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt and backdate her 100% PTSD disability benefits to 1983. The VA’s fanciest fancy dancing can’t dance out of that.

The facts of Mary Kay’s case put the VA in check.

The VA’s Treason

My October 6, 2017 Statement in Support of Claim for Mary Kay reiterates her Notice of Disagreement. I give voice, however, to the rage and disgust I feel as a citizen and veteran with the VA’s conduct.

For the record, writing this post severely triggered my PTSD. It caused near fatal bouts of depression—the worst I’ve ever experienced—and many sleepless nights, which compromised my ability to work. It sickens me beyond words that VA corruption kills more of our service personnel and veterans than our “enemies.”

Roman crucifixion, one of the cruelest forms of execution, took several hours to several days to kill the convicted. Military Sexual Trauma is a lifelong crucifixion for Mary Kay. The panic attacks that leave her gasping and feeling like she’s having a heart attack actually resemble the agony of crucifixion.

Mary Kay knows fellow Military Sexual Trauma survivors who fight similar feelings.

She knows rape survivors who have eaten themselves into morbid obesity, hiding their allure to potential assailants behind fat. She knows women who smell bad because, for the same reason, they don’t bathe. Women who dress like they’re going to an ugly dress party. Same reason. Women sedated into zombiehood by VA drugs in a vain effort to numb the memory of rape. Women suffering a host of stress mediated illness—intestinal disease, breast and colon cancer, etc.—because of the poisonous emotional residue of rape. Women who can barely control their rage. Women who have to control every tiny detail of their world and their relationships. Women who couldn’t trust anyone to save their souls.

Maybe you know a better word than crucifixion for this state of affairs, but I don’t.

Mary Kay came across this National Geographic photograph in one of her women’s groups. It visualizes what it feels like to her to live with her Navy rape.

Financially, Mary Kay’s MST has cost her around a million dollars in lost lifetime earnings. It’s cost her the 30-year Navy career she planned on. And it cost her the urology technician work that she loved. You can’t put a price tag on her suffering. The way the VA has treated her fills me with despair.


“This is the third Statement In Support of Claim that I have written regarding the matter referenced above,” I begin. “I write it in response to the VA’s 9/5/17 incorrect ruling on Mary Kay McCollum’s application for PTSD benefits. Like its flawed predecessors, the 9/5/17 ruling effectively covers up the crimes of rape, murder threats and coerced drug and alcohol abuse that were committed against Ms. McCollum while she was on active duty in the U.S. Navy. Those crimes left her totally disabled by Military Sexual Trauma. The 9/5/17 ruling contains a critical factual misrepresentation that undermines proper award of Ms. McCollum’s disability benefits.

“Is the incorrect 9/5/17 ruling innocent or intentional? I don’t know. If it’s ‘innocent’ it reflects the VA’s notoriously intractable incompetence that contributes to the needless suffering of America’s veterans and their families. If it’s intentional it amounts to a pattern of treasonous betrayal of the nation’s veterans in which VA personnel are bribed with bonuses to illegally deny veterans their benefits. As a veteran journalist who has reported extensively on public corruption, I infer from the 9/5/17 ruling that VA corruption contributes to the Military Sexual Trauma injury from which Ms. McCollum has now suffered for 34 years. It looks to me as though the evidence in the PTSD case of Mary Kay McCollum is nothing less than a case study in how VA corruption is deadlier to America’s veterans than the ‘enemies’ they were sent to fight.”

And then I write:

“I have no way of knowing if the puzzling errors in VA’s 9/5/17 ruling merely reflect VA’s infamous incompetence as yet another of the agency’s admitted “fatally flawed” mistakes, or if it represents intentional dishonesty meant to continue the cover up of the hideous crimes committed against Ms. McCollum so long ago. Either way it results in the same unjust outcome. It effectively makes the VA an accomplice to the criminal outrages committed against an innocent woman who wanted only to honorably serve her country.

“Given the VA’s long history of scandal and corruption, and given the VA’s shameful mishandling of Ms. McCollum’s case since she first submitted her PTSD benefits application 13 years ago, I am very concerned that the 9/5/17 ruling represents a ploy to continue the wrongful denial of Ms. McCollum’s full benefits.

“If that is the case I hereby request that those responsible for this dishonesty be identified and disciplined appropriately.”

And then I quote from Mary Kay’s August 22, 1976 official performance evaluation that gushes about her intelligence, eagerness, helpfulness, morale-boosting sweetness.

“She was 20 years old at the time,” I reminded the VA.

“Barely out of adolescence, she ran two night wards at Bremerton Naval Hospital and had much older personnel reporting to her,” I reminded the hidden claims processors.

Remember, I harped: “She was entrusted with the keys to the narcotics locker and was responsible for the life and death decision of proper patient medication dosage. She performed urinalysis, cultures, semen samples for vasectomy patients, kept perfect lab records, was the preferred technician for catheterizing patients, performed x-rays and tomography, started IVs for contrast material, assisted surgeons in minor and major operations, served with trauma teams on 24-hour watch.

“She loved her job. She loved her uniform; she wore it with pride. (Check her performance evaluations.) She loved saluting, the courtesy and order of it. She loved the Navy, wanted to make it a career. It gave her a sense of belonging that made her life bigger or better somehow. She was so trusted by the doctors she worked with that they asked her to housesit for them when they were away. Grateful patients and her commanding officer singled her out for commendation. Being a United States Navy corpswave and urology technician gave her a better feeling about herself.

“And then she was sexually assaulted … by a military superior and none of the other superiors who respected her so much—who found her so sweet and eager to learn and trustworthy and such a credit to the Navy and so good for the general morale—were there to help her and she succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction and she attempted suicide and she successfully completed rehabilitation but a sexual predator another superior officer named John Doe lay in wait for her and he pounced on her the moment she set foot outside rehab and he shoved drugs and booze down her throat and threatened to murder her if she didn’t let him repeatedly rape her and she had him court martialed but her sanity collapsed and no one was there to help her—none of those whose morale she had uplifted with her “sweet personality,”—and the Navy discharged her because she wasn’t sweet anymore because she had become a “Misfit”—no good to the Navy anymore. Bad attitude now. Came to work disheveled now. Mouthed off to superiors now. Often didn’t even salute officers anymore.

“Yada, yada, yada. You know all this. It’s been documented for you ad nauseum by now in the multiple appeals that I’ve helped Ms. McCollum (Mary Kay’s last name now) prepare and submit. You just don’t care. It makes no difference to you. Talking to you is like talking to a wall.

“I’ve written for some of the toughest editors at some of the most demanding publications in America—Newsweek, The New York Times, Washington Post. I’ve won some of the nation’s top reporting awards, done forensic reporting that has caused me to get warnings that my life was in danger. I’ve never encountered an audience as obtuse, cowardly, morally crippled, and downright hard hearted and thick headed as the VA.

“What really troubles me about the disgraceful way you have treated Ms. McCollum, and the reprehensible way you go on treating my brother and sister veterans in general, is this: we sign the blank check of our lives in serving our country. That’s the ultimate accountability. In Vietnam I saw men give their lives for others. I saw acts of heroism that should have won the Medal of Honor. But you at the VA have no accountability. You have no sense of honor. In adjudicating claims like Ms. McCollum’s you are as anonymous as the Wizard of Oz. You epitomize quisling character because you allow faceless bureaucrats with nothing to lose to judge men and women who have everything to lose, and whose spouses and children have everything to lose. It’s just not right. Until this imbalance of accountability is corrected the VA will go on failing America. And it will continue being an accomplice in making the phrase ‘Thank you for your service’ empty.

“Is that judgment too harsh? Is it unfair? Prove me wrong by doing two things.

  1. Have an actual named VA official give me a detailed response to this Statement In Support of Claim and all the appeals I have helped Ms. McCollum prepare since she submitted her 5/25/16 and 10/3/16 letters to former VA Secretary Robert McDonald and the Notices of Disagreement that accompanied them. These responses should include Ms. McCollum’s 2017 Form 9 Appeal and the Notice of Disagreement that this Statement in Support of Claim accompanies.
  2. Forward this Statement and Ms. McCollum’s appeals to the current VA Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, and ask him to respond to me personally with a point-by-point response to the evidence I have helped Ms. McCollum present in her application for PTSD benefits…

“I urge great care in responding to this Statement In Support of Claim. It will either reinforce or help bring to an end the rape culture now infecting the U.S. military with such devastating consequences for our military personnel and their loved ones. Because Ms. McCollum has been lost in the VA system for so long, I request a favorable decision on her claim within 30 days. If you do not comply with that request I will file a complaint with the VA Inspector General.”


Little Mary Kay

Mary Kay was three years old when this photo was taken. Contrast the sweetness and trust and hope and innocence in her eyes with the pain in those same eyes later in life, after Doe and the Navy ravaged her. I see in Little Mary Kay’s expression the same perfection I see in my own daughters and granddaughter in family album pictures taken at the same age.

There is nothing on Earth as precious as a little girl. And every little girl is subject to the same murderous rape culture that stole so much from Mary Kay. It is up to all of us to put an end to it. This article is my attempt to do my part. You can easily do your part by sharing this article widely.

Killing Mama Bear

Beyond terrible pain to individuals, the real tragedy of rape culture, and misogyny, and all patriarchal abuse of women is that it can destroy humanity’s best hope: Mama Bear Energy. There is not a human alive whose life is not basically shaped by the presence or absence of Mama Bear. When we tolerate the rape of women we allow an assault on Mama Bear Energy. It’s hard to imagine a more clear and present danger to all of us. Men get raped, too, of course, and it’s not good for us, either. But most rape victims are women. Women are the ones who translate us out of the Mystery into being. And then, if we’re very lucky, Mama Bear sets us on our way knowing in our bones that The Force is with us, that we’re more than equal to the trials of life.

That’s why killing Mama Bear is an assault on the human family. No evil alien could threaten us more.

Who Does VA Serve? The “Mary Kay Test”

One reason Mary Kay’s story interests me so much is the sleeping giant of a question hiding within: can we handle the truth about PTSD? Namely, that it is a hideous injury, the healing from which carries a big price tag. Really big. Maybe bigger than getting chlorine pollution out of the great lakes. Or mercury out of the sea.

In my second Statement In Support of Claim in Mary Kay’s case, I wrote the VA:

“Rough calculations included in Mary Kay’s appeal suggest that the mental disability caused by her Military Sexual Trauma has so far cost her around a million dollars in lost lifetime earnings. God only knows what her Military Sexual Trauma cost her in misery, lost quality of life, and the pain and suffering she passed on to her family. You can’t put a price tag on that…”

But VA can obey the laws it cites and properly calculate Mary Kay’s benefits using the evidence to which VA has admitted. VA can decide her case by ethically following its own guidelines.

Kaching! Can you hear the cash register? You can bet VA and Congress do.

Congress has taken testimony on this. “Such cynical cost-saving measures are devastating to soldiers and the lives of their families,” Penny Coleman testified in 2007.  She is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who committed suicide, and author of the devastating book, Flashback, about the devastating truth that humanity is covering up the reality of what rape and war and trauma do to us.

Dr. Jonathan Shay, one of the most distinguished psychiatrists ever to serve at the VA, author of the seminal Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in American, faults the VA for its bureaucratic indifference to the suffering it causes veterans like Mary Kay. He says his boss at the Boston VA once chastised him for saying he worked for the veterans. “You work for the VA,” she corrected him.

“I never in the 20-and-a-half years I worked for the VA took on the VA, which is why they probably left me alone,” Dr. Shay told an audience at Columbia University. Thirty-four minutes into the talk, he says, “I know that I would have been out the door on my can, probably quicker than I could blink, if I directly took on VA policy, practice and culture the way I have taken on Dept. of Defense policy, practice and culture. Go figure. But the fact is the VA, I don’t think, really cared.”

The VA doesn’t care. This from the former VA psychiatrist who was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for his distinguished PTSD work.

Face the facts in Mary Kay’s case and give her the benefit of the doubt, there’s no way out. No way out of entering by the narrow gate.

The facts in Mary Kay’s case lead humanity to the road less traveled, the intriguing/terrifying path to things kept hidden since the foundation of the world. Follow the facts, give our veterans and their families the benefit of the doubt, there’s no way out.

That could be the code, the mantra, for the “The Mary Kay Test” for veterans’ traumatic injuries.

Give them the benefit of the doubt, there’s no way out.

But why should we fear the truth? Could it be because it’ll show us something about ourselves that we’re afraid to hope for?

“In the PTSD disability matter of Mary Kay McCollum you will do God’s or the Devil’s bidding,” I also wrote to the VA. “God is watching. So am I for as long as I have eyes to watch.”

VA Inspector General Complaint

This article is being submitted to the VA Inspector General as a formal complaint. Go to VA Hotline if you want to join me in holding VA accountable, you can submit this article as a complaint, too.

Check back with this blog site for more as this story develops.


Filed under Military Sexual Trauma, Uncategorized

Immortal Medic

The medic is always there in my mind. He’s always holding the bleeding head of the wounded infantryman in his lap. I’m always circling right above them in my gunship. The medic is always screaming in our headsets to land and evacuate the wounded soldier.

“It’s just a minor wound, but I can’t stop the bleeding!” screams the medic.

The head is a most vascular part of the human anatomy. Even minor head wounds can be tough because of that.

“He’s going to die if we don’t get him out of here!” screams the medic.

But the LZ is too hot to get the Dustoff in—the medivac ship—without it getting shot down and yielding four more casualties. And our gunship is too heavy to get in and out of such a tight spot. And, besides, the living grunts below us still need our firepower.

You can say words like “the calculus of war,” but those words don’t scream, and they don’t bleed, and they don’t smell of copper and urine and feces.

And we can’t control the LZ. And the firing is steady.

“Never mind,” says the medic in a voice broken with crying. “He’s dead.”

The young soldier had bled out in the medic’s arms. I can see the medic sobbing over the body. In my mind they’re always there. Always begging to be saved.

Both of those soldiers had names, but I never knew them. At least one of them has been a name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall for a long time. They are among the nameless ghosts in my mind, the lost army that didn’t get to come home with me. But I have not abandoned them. I never will.

A good friend of mine, Jack Bunton, founder of Ram Engine, sent me this link to the virtual Vietnam Memorial Wall:

If you knew someone lost in Vietnam, you may want to visit it and think of him or her. If you want a glimpse of the world from which he or she did not return you can go here, or here


Filed under Vietnam Veterans

Speak Chrysanthemum to Tsunami

And so, in the continuing saga of the world, we have this installment: Onamazu.

Onamazu is the best explanation I’ve heard so far for why the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan.

Onamazu is the giant catfish who lives in the mud under the sea. He slipped out of the hand of Kashima, the god responsible for controlling him. For as long as anyone can remember, according to Japanese mythology, whenever Onamazu gets away from Kashima the earth quakes and all hell breaks loose.


This analysis comes from my son, Benjamin, who is an artisan craftsman in Portland, Oregon. Ben and his fellow-artisan friend Ben Pederson do wildly elegant wood and metal work—cabinetry, furniture, custom lighting; material poems to the soul’s restless quest for beauty and function—exquisitely attentive/creative house remodeling, etc.

With their friend James Hedberg, a Ph.D. physicist (a St. John’s College schoolmate of son Ben), they were in the process of launching a new enterprise. They call it Qatalogue and intend it to become a unique outlet for the creations of artisans like them, an alternative to the common denominator, mass-produced, feebly dreamed faire of big box America.

And then the tsunami swamped Japan.


Like everyone else, Qatalogue’s founders were awestruck by the sea’s remorseless power. Like everyone else, they were swept away by the Internet’s tsunami images of the great wave. In their case, however, there came a particular aftershock, an inner tsunami of grief and compassion.

(Do you suppose this could be Onamazu’s real purpose, all demons being on some mission of the psyche?)

Anyway, inaction in the tsunami’s wake felt obscene to the Qatalogiers. (My son is an Action Jackson kind of guy. Has been all his young life.)

So the two Bens and Dr. James tried to figure out what they could do to help. They decided to capitalize on Ben P.’s training and background as a fine artist. (B.P. has been exhibited in a New York City art gallery, has collectors around the world, etc.) The Qatalogiers collaborated on the creation of three “art tee shirts”, imagery of which bobbed to the surface of their imaginations in the tsunami’s froth.

The Qatalogiers are giving all proceeds from the shirts’ sales to the Japan Red Cross.

Take that, Onamazu.


The image of one shirt portrays the rascal Onamazu himself, swimming sinuously around a chisel. (“The Japanese chisel is an exquisite tool, one of the simplest yet most refined devices on earth: it is the first item on the carpenter’s bench for re-building the temple.”)

Another features the delicate invocation of a chrysanthemum, “the order of its leaves like a three dimensional rendering of a piece of music, the great mind of Nature. This is the most revered plant in Japan (they have a holiday for it, Kiku no Sekku), it stands for order, cleanliness, divinity, peace…”

Finally, there’s the shirt depicting sacred cranes above the afflicted sea. (“And over those waters float 1,000 crimson cranes, a sign of our mutual understanding, compassion, and desire to offer a hand…”)

If you’d like to lend a hand, go here and order a shirt. Order a bunch of them. Suggest your friends do the same. All proceeds go to Japan.

Speak chrysanthemum to tsunami. Let’s all do it together and raise a chorus that Onamazu can hear. And, yes, of course, Ben Shook’s old man was Qatalogue Customer #1.


Here’s the rest of the story. Well, only a little part of it, really.

In the ever-expanding catalogue of my life’s joy’s and pleasures, watching my children go forth and add their stories to the world’s—and, so, edit the world’s story—is surely the greatest.

“What do you tell your children on cold winter night’s so they will wish for tomorrow?” Chief Seattle is supposed to have said.

Apparently some white guy with a guilty conscience put those words in the great chief’s mouth, but I have to believe the great chief would approve.

Anyway, I always considered it a good question.My answer: the human spirit. It is not a human creation, and it is equal to the challenges of the rest of creation with which it must deal.

Am I saying I consider the human spirit a match for tsunamis, mercury contamination of the seas, the threat of nuclear Armageddon, yada, yada, yada?

That’s just what I’m saying.

My gut tells me the human spirit was created for the very briar patch in which it finds itself. I don’t see how it can be otherwise. Teleology 101.

Everything my three children have shown me with their lives so far reinforces that belief. The Qatalogiers’ creation of their tsunami shirts is merely the latest exhibit in my chain of evidence.

Ben Shook and Ben Pederson

Standing at the foot of his mother’s birth bed, I was the first person to see Ben Shook come into the world. I swear the first thing I saw in his eyes was a twinkle. It has never left.

Ben was born, if not with a sense that the world was mad, at least that it was extremely interesting (see his posts about a fascinating assignment he had in the Canadian Arctic:, often amusingly so. He has been my hero all his life. (His two sisters, and the kids’ mother, are my heroines.)

Ben, for me, epitomizes ideal manhood. He is sweet, but formidable. He has a warm greeting and smile for everyone. But his spirit is a force.

A few years ago, a robber made the mistake of breaking into Ben’s home. When Ben discovered the intruder in his office, the intruder thought it would be a good idea to attack Ben with the wooden sword leaning against a wall.

That wasn’t a good idea.

I once met Ben’s kung fu sensei, a man who has trained government special operators and who conducts training all over the world. He  told me that Ben was freakishly gifted. The police easily tracked Ben’s assailant by the blood trail he left as he stumbled away. The police later told Ben that earlier that morning his assailant had attacked an old man with the victim’s cane. The old man lay in a coma for a long time. Had he died (he didn’t), Ben’s assailant would have been tried for murder, said the police. Ben’s assailant needed a prolonged hospital stay to recover from the wounds he suffered at Ben’s hands, and when he recovered he was sentenced to 12 years in a prison for the mentally ill.

Last summer a black bear charged Ben, his girlfriend and his younger sister as they hiked a grassy slope at Whistler Mountain, near Vancouver, B.C. Ben put the women behind him and stepped forward. (No one then knew it, but Ben’s sister was carrying his niece at the time. See “The Angel of Fukushima,” below.) Ben told me his mind calmly calculated a move that might let him get behind the bear and apply a choke-hold. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. When it was about 50 feet away, the bear stopped, then ambled off. No, I don’t think my son scared the bear. I think the bear saw the twinkle in my son’s eye and figured the world needs that twinkle.

So what do you do in the face of a tsunami? If you’re Ben Shook, you create beauty, and offer it with love and a twinkle in your eye.

On top of everything else, Ben is a fearless musician. (Jonathan Richman, watch out.) Check out this virtuoso performance and see if you don’t agree.

As I write this, I have this image of throngs of people wearing tsunami shirts, standing at the shores of the world’s oceans and serenading Onamazu: I was dancing in a lesbian bar, oh! (You have to watch the video to understand.)

And I can picture Onamazu being lulled to sleep by this gentle lullaby and the laughing hearts from which it comes.

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Filed under Japan Earthquake

Quenching the Parched Soul

AN UNUSUAL WORKSHOP will be held in Spokane, WA, May 20-22, 2011, aimed at healing the pandemic psychological injury that threatens humanity. The injury stems from what psychotherapists like Dr. Kent Hoffman, the workshop’s creator, call our “procedural memory.”

Procedural memory is a neurological process where the googolplex of life’s earliest experiences record themselves in the cellular explosion of the developing brain. This involves a molding of living tissue that subsequently shapes perception, governing every individual’s understanding of “reality.”

Procedural memory infects our species with what Dr. Christopher Bollas, an eminent British psychotherapist, calls the “unthought known.”

Boggled Mind, Troubled History, Haunted Future

Neuroscience has discovered that the human brain contains 100 billion neurons. Neurons are living cells that think. Thought is an electro-chemical process that takes place in pulses of energy leaping across the synaptic gaps between the neurons. Each brain contains a galaxy of 100 trillion synapses. There are more possible synaptic interactions in every brain, neuroscientists now tell us, than there are molecules in the known universe.

Such discoveries bring a new view of human experience into focus. They suggest that every synaptic impulse not only molds the brain, but also serves as the microscopic headwaters of history.

From Hoffman’s perspective, the unthought known is actually a physical place where every one of us lives, a kind of cosmic hermitage.

“By the time we’re three years old, we’ve got a thousand trillion neural pathways established, all of which are experience-dependent,” says Dr. Hoffman. “The unthought known is well established by the time we’re eighteen months of age. And it pretty much drives our lives.”

Drives some of us right into a spiritual desert, he says, because it disconnects us from what truly is, the very Nature that produced us.

Hoffman calls his workshop “Thirst,” because it addresses what he has found to be the only way out of this desert. The passage: a “sacred practice” of daily meditation that leads beyond the confusion of words, even words like the ones he uses to point to the way.

Here, then, is humanity’s sublingual plotline, suggests Hoffman. It’s where the story of us comes from—symphonies and mall shootings, poems and nuclear weapons. But it is a story without words. It takes a journey without words to escape its lonely illusion.

Three Men & the World’s Babies

Hoffman’s Thirst workshop emerges from a project he and two of his colleagues, Bert Powell and Glen Cooper, launched more than a decade ago. Partners in the Marycliff Institute of Spokane, the three therapists wanted a way to bring greater leverage to their efforts at assisting with psychological healing than working with single clients.

They seized on the large body of research known as “attachment theory,” which addresses the profound role played by early childhood and effective parenting in the mental health of individuals and the civilization they form.

The Marycliff clinicians called their project “Circle of Security.” (See “4-million-yr.-old genius“.) A decade after its launch, it has become something of an international phenomenon. These days the three therapists lecture all over the world on the subject of building the kind of psychological security in babies and children that can—much more than merely reducing the need for psychotherapy later in life—greatly add to life’s satisfaction and joy.

The heart of the matter is what they call a “secure base/safe haven.” Such a psychological foundation is achieved, they say, by recognizing the extreme thirst for it that all infants and children have, and the latent genius parents have to slake that thirst—even parents whose own needs weren’t met early in life.

Bert Powell

On his office wall, in order to illustrate what a secure base/safe haven means, Powell displays the famous Jean Guichard photograph of a monstrous wave engulfing a Brittany lighthouse. The great wave represents life’s unavoidable storms, says Powell. The lighthouse represents the healthy psyche’s ability to withstand them.

The whole purpose of therapy, says Powell, is to build that kind of secure base/safe haven later in life if a fortunate childhood didn’t create it for you. The world will become a kinder and gentler place the more common such personal safe havens become, says the Marycliff team. (Note the tiny figure of the lighthouse keeper standing in the door, a secure soul in the maw of a killer wave.)

For his part, Hoffman believes that the only real hope humanity has of achieving peace and avoiding self-annihilation is spreading the “circle of security” as widely and rapidly as possible. He likes to quote Gandhi: “If we want to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children.”

But how do parents whose unthought known does not include the arts of peace teach peace? That’s the catch, says Hoffman, and the reason he has launched his new Thirst workshop.

Humanity’s hope, says Hoffman, is its yearning–and willingness to act on it.

“I’m doing this for those of us, me included, who are ‘still crazy after all these years.’”

Hoffman also likes to quote Selma Fraiberg, whom he calls “the mother of the infant mental health movement.”

Said Fraiberg, “The mending of children’s lives is a very large part of the work of our profession, and it would be folly to say that all childhood disturbances of personality can be prevented.  Even in utopia, I think the child therapists will have waiting lists. But a large number of the disorders of personality that I have seen could have been prevented.  And these, in nearly every case, have been disturbances in the primary human relationships during the early months and years of life.”

As did both of his colleagues—Powell and Cooper—Hoffman had what he considers a traumatic childhood. He emphasizes that he and his colleagues have “built a firewall” between their highly scientific protocol and the spiritual practices Hoffman is about to teach in Thirst. Hoffman says that for him personally, however, science and spirituality are one.

“The meditation practices I’m about to share are what keep me sane,” he says.

When Your “Holding Environment” Holds

“None of us do well without a holding environment. None of us,” Hoffman says in his Daily Practice 1. (!resources)

A holding environment is the secure base/safe haven that the attachment school of psychology is all about.

When I first came across that notion more than a decade ago, I instantly flashed back on an experience I had in Vietnam. This is how the brain processes information—it screams through the archives of personal experience to see if the new data fit any of its schema, its frames of reference.

The frame of reference for me in this case was my helicopter company’s bunker during the Tet Offensive at Bien Hoa. VC and NVA rocketeers were trying to erase us. Their big 122 mm Russian rockets and mortars rained down, making a noise that caused me to picture giants slamming doors in the sky that were as big as the whole sky. The ground jumped and the earth shook.

Whhummp. Wooooff.

Guys in the darkness around me cried for their mothers. Literally.

Mommeee!! Mommmmiieee!!!!

I recognized some of the voices belonged to big, tough guys. Guys “I wouldn’t have messed with with a shotgun,” as the saying goes.

Two unforgettable things happened for me in that moment. First, a calm voice in my head said, “This is hard. If you get through this, nothing will ever be hard again.” After that thought registered, the voice then said: “Damn, Larry, you’re like a cat. You always land on your feet.”

Then the second thing happened. I remembered my mother, and her mother, and my mother’s older sister, my beloved aunt. I remembered them reflexively. In that instant, with sand sifting over me in the darkness from explosions that were hunting me, these women were with me. They were with me because they’re always in me. These women had loved me as though I were royalty. Without my ever even thinking about it until that moment—obviously part of my unthought known—they made me feel special and safe.

The thing is, these women had known very hard lives, hadn’t had much of a “holding environment” themselves. At least one of them, as I learned only last month, was raped when she was 16 years old.

As I sat there in that bunker, the world around me sounding as though it were ending, I knew the field phone on the bunker wall would ring and my helicopter gunship team would get scrambled and we would take off through the barrage and address our attackers. And I lusted for that to happen. And it did.

And the whole while, not knowing from one second to the next if I would still be alive, I understood that the fire breather who lives inside me doesn’t mean I’m tougher or braver than anyone else; indeed, I know for certain that I’m not. It means, instead, that I get to live with my own protective dragon because three women who didn’t have a dragon of their own installed this fierce love-fed beast in me.

More than 30 years passed before I told anyone about my bunker experience. The man I told, Garve Brakel, IT director for the City of Spokane, had been a platoon leader in Vietnam.

“What I remember about guys who died in my command,” he told me, “is that their heads were shaved, their faces were dirty, and they cried for their mothers.”

That thirst for mother, says Hoffman, and the ability of mother to be sustained and found again and again through all life’s breakage is what his work is about.

Except, it’s really not mother, per sé, that we’re looking for, he says. “We’re searching for original holding, which can be mother or father in human form.”

This is the subject of a poignant two-minute Singapore TV commercial that an audience member shared with Hoffman after a presentation he recently made in Australia. (

“Thirst is proof of water,” Hoffman quotes a Sufi wisdom saying. The emotions triggered by the Singapore video contain a similar proof that “original holding” exists, he says.

For information about quenching your thirst, go here: If you know others who are thirsty you might suggest they do the same.


Filed under Healing

The Angel of Fukushima

Her initials are W.O.W. Nickname: Wowie.

When she was still in the womb her parents took to calling her The Ballerina—she kicked a lot.

She was born when the tsunami hit Japan. Next day, reports began to circulate that the nuclear reactors of Fukushima were in trouble.

Wowie is my granddaughter. The ocean between her and Fukushima did not comfort me. There’s not enough distance between a bad nuclear accident and any life on Earth to comfort those who remember Chernobyl, those with even an inkling of Chernobyl’s meaning.

I’m not a nuclear expert, but I know a lot more than I wish I did. I know a lot more than I wish anyone needed to know about the challenge humanity has created for itself with its nuclear misadventure.

Instantly, I started researching the Fukushima accident, or trying to. I wanted to know what needed to be done to keep my Wowie safe.

But it was the same old story I first stumbled onto as a journalist more than a quarter of a century ago.


When you try to learn anything in the haunted shadow lands of the split atom you find yourself in a spooky world. Here, facts are closely guarded by a Ministry of Truth.

Tortured souls, Ministry of Truth members dispense information on the strictest need-to-know basis. They have a list of who needs to know, and the public isn’t on their list. All those trying to learn what actually goes on in the world of the split atom—what has gone on and what it might mean—are instantly placed on another list: a watch list.

Once, I was on that watch list.

At Washington State’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the plutonium in the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki came from, along with more half the rest of the plutonium in America’s nuclear arsenal, the Ministry of Truth watched my every move.

What happens in the environment, and what happens to public health, I wanted to know, when you make nuclear weapons? What happened at Hanford?

Oh, nothing, nothing at all, said the Ministry of Truth. Here’s a press release. Move along.

But a funny thing started happening when I would go to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to attempt researching this subject. The Ministry of Truth assigned a security guard to me. He kept me within reach at all times—even when I used the urinal in the mens room. (Thank goodness the urinal’s all I ever needed to use there.)

(Hey, wait a minute, you may be wondering. How come one of the biggest nuclear weapons factories on Earth is managed by an “energy” department? That’s a tad, well, Orwellian, isn’t it? Oh, you weren’t wondering that? You should.)


Days after Willa was born, days after the Japanese tragedy, Wowie was smiling, recorded by her father’s phone camera. At that moment, Popsie (that’s what they call me these days) was scrambling. I was trying to find out what in God’s name needs to be done to protect Wowie’s brand new thyroid (if anything does need to be done, or can be done), and what needs to be done to protect the other angels in my immediate life. I’m concerned about this, because of all the experience I had with the Ministry of Truth. And because children took it in the throat after Chernobyl.


And while I’m trying to get my arms around Fukushima, all these memories of my dealings with the Ministry of Truth are hitting me like a tsunami, my own private tsunami. As we all now know, you don’t soon forget a tsunami. Because of my own tsunami experience with the Ministry of Truth, I know that expecting it to come clean about anything in the mad world of the split atom is like expecting a drunk to give up his bottle.

So, yes, I’m worried. It’s not because I understand Fukushima. It’s because I understand the Ministry of Truth. I’m remembering all my experiences with it. I’m remembering Peggy Bennett. Dear, sweet Peggy.

Peggy Bennett was the public relations woman for Rockwell, the company managing Hanford when I was doing my reporting. One day, my old colleague, Tim Connor, and I were doing an interview with several  Hanford scientists. Peggy was their keeper that day.

Before I tell you about poor Peggy’s experience you need to understand that the first thing you learn as a reporter trying to cover the world of the split atom is that you can’t do it without help. It’s way too esoteric. It’s not just a Ph.D.’s world, it’s a world of enslaved Ph.D.s and the horribly mutilated science that the Ministry of Truth has run through its million-micron filter. You must never forget that, as a member of the peasant public, you are not on the need-to-know list.

Pass through the portals of the Ministry of Truth alone and you’re just a hound dog trying to read an algebra book.

So by the time I conducted interviews like this one I had received a lot of hand-holding from generous scientists who were willing to help me. They had names like Dr. Alice Stewart, Dr. John Gofman, Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, Dr. Carl J. Johnson, Dr. Thomas F. Mancuso, Dr. Sam Milham, Dr. Thomas B. Cochran, Dr. Edward A. Martell, Dr. Allen B. Benson, Dr. William H. Houff, etc. (I’ll let you Google them yourself.)


By this time, the Ministry of Truth knew that I was getting my hands on documents I wasn’t supposed to have. Like the stack sample of what was actually released as soon as the “energy” department fired up Hanford’s decrepit old PUREX factory. (PUREX wasn’t a bleach plant. It was a plutonium uranium extraction facility.) Its restart was part of the Reagan Administration’s arms buildup.

The Multnomah County Commissioners, in Portland, Oregon, and the Southwest Washington Board of Health, on the northern banks of the Columbia River, were terrified of the PUREX restart. They asked the “energy” department not run it again. Reason: during the Cold War, Hanford made the Columbia the radioactively hottest fresh water body on earth. You didn’t want to be eating the shellfish of Willipa Bay. Hanford radioactive contamination was being measured out on the continental shelf of the Pacific Ocean.

Oh, you sillies, said the Ministry of Truth. There’s nothing to worry about. We’ll be careful.

But the stack sample referred to above explains why PUREX’s own operators were terrified. I learned of their terror from… well, never mind.

The Ministry of Truth released a statement saying that nothing but a few little “thoron daughters” had come up the PUREX stack. The media dutifully reported that. Heck, how scary can daughters be?

But the actual stack printout showed that one of the isotopes that had been released had a decay energy of (drum roll) 5.245 MeV. That, ladies and gentlemen (another drum roll) is Plutonium-239. You want to keep Pu-239, every grain of it, away from anything you don’t want to kill, for 250,000 years.


But I digress.

So Tim and I do our interview with the Hanford scientists. We take them through the documents we want their comments on. The whole while the scientists eye our running tape recorders like they’re cobras. It was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done—I’m not kidding—because the scientists were extremely professional, collegial, civil. They were just plain nice. And so smart. And the most fun a reporter can have is talking to nice, smart people.

Now the interview’s over. The tape recorders are off. We’re all standing, politely shaking hands. Some of the scientists have big sweat rings under their arms; some have sweat beads on their foreheads. Even so, I have the distinct impression that they almost found it a relief to talk to us. These are not bad, immoral people. They’re just slaves.

And then it happened.

“Larry, I want to ask you something,” says Peggy. “Why don’t you want to believe us?”

The scientists start fidgeting. Peggy’s question makes them nervous. They say things like, no, no, we’re happy to answer questions, this is fine, any time, really. But Peggy cuts them off.

“No, Larry. I want to know. Why don’t you want to believe us?”

Keep in mind the subject: Hanford’s radiation releases. Ever since the World War Two Manhattan Project, the Ministry of Truth has insisted that no harm to public health could possibly have resulted from Hanford’s activities.

Peggy Bennett looked exactly as you would expect someone in her position to look. Attractive, impeccably dressed, very professional. A woman of a certain age, somewhere in her 50s, I would guess.

“Believe me, Peggy,” I said. “I do want to believe you. This is just science. It’s just arithmetic. We just need you to go to the blackboard and do your work.”

Absolutely, said the scientists. Quite right. Harrumph, harrumph. We’re happy to answer questions. Any time. Stuff like that.

I’ll never know what was going through Peggy’s mind, but it clearly tortured her. She looked at me hard and said:

“Larry, I have grandchildren in this town. Do you think I would do anything to harm them?”

Her voice cracked, and tears suddenly flooded her eyes and streamed down her cheeks and streaked her face with mascara. In my memory, the mascara actually dripped onto her blouse.


We continued pressing Hanford to release the documents proving government claims that the public had nothing to fear. In report after report we hammered on our request. We spoke all over the Northwest, sometimes to gatherings of several hundred people. I addressed the annual meeting of the Washington State Medical Association one year. Always our message was the same: release the records.

Finally they did. The documents showed Hanford’s Ministry of Truth had been lying all along. Google “Hanford’s Green Run” to read about how the government secretly released thousands of curies of thyroid-killing Iodine-131 from Hanford—on purpose—just to see what would happen.

Why did the Ministry of Truth let down its guard and release the documentation we sought? Al Conklin, a former Rockwell staffer, told me years later. He was leaving Rockwell to go to work for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, he explained to me, when Hanford manager Mike Lawrence gave him a final assignment: review 20,000 pages of Hanford records in the few days he had remaining to be sure they contained no legitimately protected national security secrets. Conklin told me the assignment was a joke. He said he just sat there hitting papers with the stamp that would release them all.


Within days after Wowie’s birth, my wife flew out to help her and her parents. Early Saturday morning my wife texted  me. Wowie’s mother, our youngest daughter, was worried about radiation from Fukushima. Could I please do more research and see if I could find reassuring information?

I went to the Web site of the Institute for Policy Studies, where my old friend and trusted source, Robert Alvarez, is a senior scholar. I saw that IPS had hosted a press conference the day before, Friday, March 18. (See “Fukushima, USA” in the post below.)

That press conference was not reassuring. Again, I urge everyone to listen to it and form your own conclusions. (I also urge you to read the comment Alvarez made beneath that post and study the documents he links. This is the only way around the Ministry of Truth’s disinformation campaign, disinformation that threatens you and everything you love, and everything in the world you care about.)

Listening to the press conference, you will see that the highly credentialed and extremely sober presenters refer to the irrationality of the Ministry of Truth as addictive behavior. This did not surprise me.

What shocked me was to learn that the drunks of the Ministry of Truth are covering up dangers in the U.S. that are far greater than the dangers that caused the Fukushima tragedy. Dangers that threaten Chernobyl-dwarfing apocalypse in the U.S.

The Wowie contingent did listen to the IPS press conference. Next day, my wife told me that she had discovered our daughter—our own baby—weeping quietly alone in the bathtub. Even though Wowie’s mother is one of the most tender hearted, loving people we have ever met, she was not prepared for the intensity of the love that she felt for her baby. And now she feared what might come from the sky.

If there was anything in the world that young woman’s father could do to repair it so she didn’t have to be afraid of the sky, you’d better believe he would do it. This is DNA talking.

The irony is, I think that our daughter’s tears are not just healing, I think they represent humanity’s best hope. I think they represent the kind of spontaneous sanity that Peggy Bennett displayed, a reflexive recognition at the level of DNA of what really is true. Such recognition of truth, I believe, is our only hope.

The lesson of Fukushima makes me wonder how much time we have to recover our right minds. We have been lost, it seems to me, for such a long time.


Even though he had just completed an exhausting week, on Sunday, March 20, Bob Alvarez granted me a very generous interview of more than an hour. I wanted him to elaborate on the 2003 study that he and colleagues had done about the crisis of America’s improperly stored nuclear waste. Nuclear waste like what was afire at Fukushima.

Alvarez, a former senior policy adviser to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, and a deputy assistant secretary himself from 1993 to 1999, is in a position to know what he’s talking about.

He reiterated what he had said at the press conference. America has not built proper storage facilities for its high-level nuclear waste. This deadly garbage just keeps building up at nuclear generating plants, unprotected, a catastrophe of unimaginable scale waiting to happen.

(Can you imagine what health inspectors would do with a restaurant that just dumped its garbage and trash out back?)

Incredibly, at 34 of the nation’s 102 nuclear plants, this deadly waste is stored underwater in flimsy buildings high above ground, just as at Fukushima. Noting the hideous risk of that, in 2002, 27 U.S. state’s attorneys general sent President Bush a Gregoire letter asking him to, please, clean up this scary mess.

Chillingly, their letter pointed out that “diagrams of U.S. nuclear power plants were found in Al Qaeda enclaves in Afghanistan.”

What would “evil-doers” who thought it clever to fly airliners into iconic buildings think about targets like these? That question is disturbing enough, but what can be said about the geniuses who created such tempting nuclear targets in the first place, and who refuse to remove the temptation?

Remembering my Hanford background, Alvarez emphasized the unbelievable vulnerability of Hanford’s Columbia Generating Station (CGS.)

Beyond the very real threat of terrorist attack, he notes, CGS sits in a zone that is vulnerable to both earthquakes and volcanoes. It  houses four to five times more long-lived radioactive waste than Fukushima, its latent fires of hell stuffed in a precarious, contemptuously cheap structure perched some 70 feet above potentially shaky ground. Whether loss of cooling water in this awkward garbage can resulted from an earthquake or terrorists, there is no backup generating capacity to replace the water, just as at Fukushima, Alvarez explained.

I couldn’t believe it. “There’s no backup water circulation capability?” I asked.

“No.” he said. “In fact the [CGS] spent fuel pool has basically the equivalent of a tin roof over it.”

The work of Alvarez and his colleagues shows that just this one plant, the Columbia Generating Station, has the potential to “take out” an area four times larger than the Chernobyl disaster—roughly 2,400 square miles.

The resulting contamination, Alvarez and his colleagues estimated, “could render an area greater than several states combined uninhabitable for the indefinite future.”

By what democratic process, you may wonder, did the Ministry of Truth in this “greatest democracy on Earth” impose such a risk on its own citizens, to say nothing of its Canadian neighbors ?

Alvarez stressed that he and his colleagues didn’t publish their study “just to scare people.”

The point is, he said, it’s an easy problem to fix. We’re just not fixing it. *

It occurs to me that, so long as these latent Chernobyls are scattered all over America, calling support for nuclear power “pro-nuclear” is like calling drunk drivers “pro-auto industry.”


Has this incomprehensible state of affairs resulted from addictive behavior alone? If so, then I think humanity’s only hope is for the citizens of the world to figure out how to do an intervention. Take the bottle away from the drunk. Take away the car keys.

I’m aware, however, of a school of thought that suggests humanity’s crisis is even more profound than addictive behavior. Quoting extensively from C.G. Jung, the great Swiss psychotherapist, Santa Fe, New Mexico therapist Jerome S. Bernstein argues that when humanity turned away from its natural roots—its connection to the living universe—it “wrenched its ego” from the only wholeness that can support human life.

The American Indians were in touch with that wholeness, students like Bernstein and the great Sioux Indian scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. argue. But we wiped out Indian culture, stole Indian land, banished their language and destroyed their very words for saying what they had learned over millennia about how the world works and what it means, a world in which the sky was revered, not feared. We forfeited the life-giving treasure of ancient wisdom.

I saw a poignant dramatization of that during my Hanford coverage. The “energy” department wanted to locate its first permanent high-level nuclear waste repository on sacred Yakima Nation land at what was now called Hanford. But how to warn people for the next 250,000 years to stay away? What kind of signage would it take?

“Don’t worry,” said Yakima leader Russell Jim at one hearing. “We’ll be here. We’ll tell them. The Yakimas have been here on the Columbia Plateau since the beginning of time. We’ll be here at the end of time.”

Hush settled over the room full of Ph.D.s.

As if wanting to help them from their confused state, Jim continued: “If you can believe the Creator created the first woman from the rib of the first man, you ought to be able to believe the Creator created the first Yakima from the soil of the banks of the Columbia River.”

It was one of the most reasonable, sane things I’ve ever heard. The Ph.D.s were mute. What could they say?


Wowie’s mother is an artist. She was working last summer as the personal assistant to a famous movie star, on location in Vancouver, B.C. My wife and I visited. Our son-in-law was with us, too.

“We have something to tell you,” said our daughter.

The angel was on the way.

We were sitting under a beautiful summer sky in a park by the bay, (a place that, I suppose, could be unsafe if things went horribly wrong at the Columbia Generating Station).

Every moment has been filled with anticipation since we learned the angel was coming. And now I find myself wondering: Why did the angel come when she did? Why on that day of all days, the day of the tsunami?

I’ve often wondered why certain things happen when they do. Now that I’m a grandfather, such thoughts come all the time. Its true what they say about the preciousness of time as it runs down.

I was thinking about the angel the other day, thinking about how her parents are so shocked by the intensity of their love for her, their wonder at every little twitch, gurgle and coo, when I remembered the four-million-year-old genius.

The genius is the amazing ability all people have to parent, to love their children. Even people who come from the most disadvantaged, traumatized family backgrounds can connect pretty quickly  with the genius, given the right help. It’s because the genius resides in the DNA.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a team of researchers I profiled 10 years ago. 4-million-yr.-old genius.

Their theory is that we really do know how to find our way through the stars, to come home from the lonely Diaspora we’ve been on since losing contact with our heart.

Wowie, the Angel of Fukushima, makes me think they’re right. Anyway, it’s a lovely thing to hope for.


Dear Ministry of Truth: Y’all can put me back on your watch list. The Angel of Fukushima has put you back on mine. I pray to God she puts you on the watch list of everyone of Earth.

(Yes, I’m authorized to say “y’all.” I’m a genetic Texan.)

Y’all be good now.

* Details of recommendations by former U.S. DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Alvarez for correcting America’s spent nuclear fuel crisis: “The fix involves thinning out the spent fuel pools—removing about 3/4ths—and placing it in dry, hardened casks. These are large, steel-lined concrete containers that keep the fuel cool by air convection. The casks, which have been around for decades, are more able to withstand earthquakes. Currently, the U.S. reactor fleet has about 63,000 metric tons of spent fuel rods. Only about 14% of it is in dry casks. Germany took the steps we recommended 25 years ago, because of concerns over NATO crashes and terrorism. We estimated in 2003 that this could be done in 10 years for all U.S. reactors at an expense of $3.5 to $7 billion.”


Filed under Fukushima Nuclear Emergency

Fukushima, USA

If you live in North America and you’ve been thinking the Fukushima nuclear tragedy is confined to Japan, a former U.S. Department of Energy official had very bad news for you at a Washington, D.C. press conference yesterday. And, no, the news wasn’t about how much of Fukushima’s radiation is now reaching you, or might ultimately. That’s another matter.

Robert Alvarez, one the world’s foremost authorities on radiation hazards, warned that 34 of the 103 nuclear reactors in the U.S. store their spent fuel in pools several stories above ground, just like the ill-fated Fukushima reactors.

The difference, stressed Alvarez, is that, unlike the Japanese reactors, the U.S reactors now house four times more spent fuel than they were designed for. That’s because, going on half a century into the nuclear energy age, the U.S. has yet to adopt a long-term storage solution for its nuclear waste.

The situation poses a deadly risk, Alvarez and his colleagues warned in a 2003 study. The controversial American reactors each have 5-10 times more long-lived radioactivity in their vulnerable storage pools than they do in the reactors’ cores, the study found. Heightening that hazard, the waste pools are located outside the reactors’ containment domes.

Damage causing loss of cooling water in such storage pools can result in burning nuclear waste being released directly into the environment. This is the tragedy now unfolding in Fukushima.

Such nightmarish release of radiation is what turned some thousand square kilometers around Chernobyl, an area equal to about half the size of New Jersey, into a wasteland, said Alvarez.

Estimates of when Chernobyl will again be safe for human habitation range from 300 to 1,000 years.

As if the threat of 34 Chernobyls in the continental U.S. weren’t bad enough, a recent MSNBC story sited deeply unsettling U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission risk estimates of catastrophic failure due to earthquakes.

“Each year, at the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance that the core could be damaged by an earthquake, exposing the public to radiation,” read the story. ( “No tsunami required. That’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a ticket in the Powerball multistate lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145.”

Even worse are the odds of disaster (one in 10,000) at the Indian Point nuclear plant, just 24 miles north of New York City.

What caused this grave state of affairs, charges Alvarez, is that Congress gutted the regulatory ability of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, much as its gutting of the Securities Exchange Commission led to the global economic meltdown of 2008.

When Alvarez and his colleagues released their report on spent fuel hazards, the NRC tried to have it suppressed, he said. Congress ordered a National Academy of Sciences review. That review validated the report’s conclusions in 2004. Seven years later, however, there is no evidence that NRC has taken corrective action, says Alvarez.

Regarding the dangers to Japan, the U.S., and the rest of the world resulting from the Fukushima catastrophe, a physician with special expertise in radiation and a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told press conference attendees that at the moment there’s little that can be done but for the world to hold its breath and wait to see.

One reason no informed estimate of Fukushima-related radiation risks can be made at present is because no actual data has yet been released. U.S. and Japanese military flights have apparently taken actual radiation measurements at the site, but their findings have not been made public.

Yesterday, a consortium of citizen groups sent President Obama a letter requesting release of actual radiation measurements taken at Fukushima.

Go here to listen to yesterday’s Fukushima emergency press conference:

Go here for the Alvarez team’s report on spent nuclear fuel hazards:

Go here for the letter requesting President Obama to release Fukushima radiation data:

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

NAACP “Outrage”

Bye, George

I just received the message below from one of my old Vietnam gunship pilots. It objects to the “outrage” of the NAACP covering up a statue of George Washington during this year’s Martin Luther King celebration in Columbia, SC. I don’t even know if this happened. I’m a reporter and I’m supposed to check this stuff out, but in this case, I don’t care. Someone sent me this, assuming that it happened. So I’ll assume it did, too. Here’s my take.

George Washington was one of the great human beings of history, in my view. But in the vice of history in which he and his contemporaries were held, they dreamed a dream of freedom that held the nightmare of slavery within it. That was WRONG. The ideals that the founding fathers themselves fought and died for and handed down to posterity tell us it was wrong. To not denounce it as wrong is an act of apostasy.

Was the gesture of the NAACP reported here “a disgusting display of anti-Americanism,” as the email’s author fumed? Sure it was– but only in the sense that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was correct in calling Gen. George Marshall a communist. The evidence suggests to me, however, that Gen. Marshall was more like Gen. Washington than Commissar Lenin.

But that’s just me. Maybe all the NAACP was trying to do was keep the faith in breaking a toxic silence, and to make darned sure that the silence stays broken, because the body and soul of America are still healing from slavery. If so, I’m grateful to be able to add my two cents worth.

In Vietnam, in 1967-68, my brother who sent me this message and I had the honor of flying with a helicopter gunship platoon that answered to the call sign Mustang. I write a little about this in a blog post below.

“Thank you for calling the Mustangs. How may we direct our fire?” That was our spirit.

Every day was the OK Corral for us. In III Corps of South Vietnam — the Mekong Delta — every day and every night there was an OK Corral happening somewhere. We were gunfighters. We went to the gunfights the infantry invited us to. That’s how we could help keep them alive so they could come home to the American Dream. We put our snouts right in the enemy’s fire. At the end of those engagements the fingers of both dissentient parties were not still on their triggers. We were fierce. That’s what the job required. You couldn’t do what we did–put your life on the line with unalloyed commitment day after day–unless you believed in the reason you were doing it.

I was in Vietnam for only 12 months, nine of them in helicopters, 1,200 combat hours. I volunteered for the draft, volunteered for Vietnam, volunteered for combat. I fought to get into the fight. In the years since then I have countless times asked myself what I really meant to fight for in Vietnam. I always get the same answer. If the NAACP really did what the message below claims, that is a variation on the answer I get.

Freedom, man! FREEDOM!

If the NAACP really did what the message below claims, it’s easy for me to imagine the good Gen. Washington and the good Dr. King standing together somewhere inside the Pearly Gates, each with an arm draped over the shoulder of the other, saying, “Come on, people. Think about this. Work together. Get your heads out of your mess kits.”

Seems to me the NAACP is missing an “A” from its initials. Should be NAAACP–National Association for the Advancement of All Colored People, white being a color, too.

On Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 7:38 AM, ___ wrote:

Another one missed by the NY Times
Where is the OBAMA outrage?

George Washington statue is hidden at the MLK rally in Columbia , SC. The annual MLK observance at the state house in Columbia SC had an interesting twist this year.
The event is held on the north side steps of the statehouse. Prominent at that location is a large bronze statue of George Washington. This year, the NAACP constructed a “box” to conceal the Father of His Country from view so that participants would not be offended by his presence. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this picture of the MLK Day rally in Columbia , South Carolina yesterday.  This rally was sponsored by the NAACP and they said that they covered the statue because they “didn’t want to offend anyone”.  Really? George Washington is the father of this nation.  How is he offensive to anyone?  Can you imagine what would happen if we covered the statue of Dr. King on President’s Day?  Of course, this disgusting display of anti-Americanism wasn’t covered at all by the national media and only the local paper in Columbia had a little piece on it.  It has been covered a little by the blog-world and I think the word needs to get out to the general public that this is what the NAACP is all about…..militant, hateful and racist.  In doing this, they disrespected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  I bet he would be equally disgusted.  Awful.


Filed under Free Speech

Spokane’s Anarchist Mayor

Spokane's Mayor Mary Verner

Dick Adams wrote an email to the Spokane, WA, City Council and Mayor Mary Verner last week that, when you put two and two together, has the effect of indicting the mayor for anarchy. Actually, the evidence suggests to me that the mayor effectively confessed to anarchy three years ago with a surprisingly candid email she wrote to a former sheriff. Mr. Adams’s email shows what Mayor Verner’s anarchy is costing her citizens.

Mr. Adams objected  to consideration that Spokane chief financial officer Gavin Cooley is giving to “charging our city credit card” by selling $45 million of councilmanic bonds. Mr. Adams told me that he considers this an illegal use of public debt because its purpose is to solve a financial crisis caused by an earlier illegal use of public debt. Mr. Cooley is an agent of both frauds, charges Mr. Adams, which stem from the River Park Square financial scandal.

Dick Adams is hardly alone in decrying such abuse of public finance as part of a much larger pattern of government behavior in America today. A retired executive of a U.S. Steel subsidiary, Mr. Adams is well known for his financial expertise. Over the years he has been one of the closest and most knowledgeable observers of municipal finance in Spokane. Not just Teapartiers agree with him that America’s fiscal lawlessness has become nothing less than a government Ponzi scheme now threatening  the country with an historic economic catastrophe.

In this heist, never-ending layers of debt are added to sub-layers. (Mr. Adams is horrified that American citizens now owe nearly a trillion dollars to China.) Much of this debt, as in the case of Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown and its globally transmitted fiscal disease of derivatives, is directly traceable to criminal activity. The criminal enterprise involves government officials helping private interests steal money from the public. The criminals keep getting away with their crime because of the gangsterization of government. Government criminals, naturally, will not prosecute themselves for their crimes.

At the heart of the 2008 meltdown is a structural accounting fraud that U.S. government leaders embedded in the global economy with their refusal to regulate derivatives and impose generally accepted accounting principles on them. That refusal is why uber investor Warren Buffett called derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction.” Responsible government regulation of derivatives would have mandated full disclosure of their true asset value, and that might have averted the historic economic emergency now threatening the nation. For a quick review of U.S. government culpability in this emergency, watch the PBS Frontline report called “The Warning,”

In that report, you’ll hear this exchange between a Congressional hearing panelist and former Chairwoman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Brooksley Born:

Q: What are you trying to protect?

Born: We’re trying to protect the money of the American public.

The Clinton Administration chose not to accept that mission. Neither did the Bush Administration. Nor has Barack Obama’s Administration. When President Obama, the eloquent purveyor of hope, and the U.S. Congress got around to passing last year’s “financial reform” legislation, they accepted assistance from 54 financial industry lobbying firms that spent $300 million. That trifling investment bought Wall Street the ability to keep gambling with the money of  the American people—and the fate of the global economy. (See John Cassidy’s “Annals of Economics: The Volker Rule,” in the 7/26/10 issue of The New Yorker.)

Public/Private Crime

From accounts like these, government officials and various private interests emerge as little more than glib public/private mobsters. Untouchable by virtue of the legal immunity they gain from their control of government, they’re able to enjoy their champagne while blowing raspberries at the rest of the world. In this scenario, the citizens of the world become to the public/private mobsters what the Jews of Europe were to the Nazis—compliant souls to be herded into ghettos for scheduled liquidation. The liquidation in this case, of course, is not of actual bodies based on criminal insanity of the political kind. Instead, it is liquidation of personal wealth—and civilization’s hope—resulting from criminal insanity of the economic kind. Thus have the nations of the world become ghettos for the use of organized financial crime.

Mr. Adams’s email connects to this bigger picture, because the settled evidence clearly shows that Spokane’s River Park Square scandal was the work of public/private mobsters. River Park Square is hometown civic theater to Wall Street’s Broadway extravaganza.

Supporters of RPS euphemistically called it a public/private partnership. Details of the project that surfaced in federal municipal securities fraud litigation, an IRS investigation, and extensive national prize-winning investigative reporting by my colleagues and me (see show that RPS was just carefully packaged public/private crime.

Ugly facts clearly show that River Park Square developer Betsy Cowles set out to commit crime, and that her newspaper publisher brother, Stacey Cowles, did, too. Mr. Cowles’s crime was to provide the use of the family’s newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, to package his little sister’s real estate crime for public consumption.

This whole sordid history is tediously documented elsewhere on this blog and various links cited by it. Consider the following:

For evidence that Betsy Cowles knowingly set out to break the law, see the story “Missing Man,”  Open Ms. Cowles’s infamous 3/9/95 “divide and conquer” memo. That memo proves that Ms. Cowles, a lawyer, intended to violate federal securities law by hiding from investors her plan to launder a $23 million federal loan into the Nordstrom Co. by giving Nordstrom a free new store in Spokane. To accomplish this crime, she intended to “divide and conquer” Spokane’s city government, a time-honored tactic of despots. See “Inside Job,”, for proof that the Cowleses set out to secretly access public funds in a way that violated federal guidelines, and that Spokane public officials helped them do it. As companion reading, see the story “Fraudville, USA,” Read the RPS bondholders’ 91-point Omnibus Statement of Facts. It documents the securities fraud engineered by Ms. Cowles with active complicity of a host of Spokane officials. The city admitted to its role in this crime by purchasing the bondholders’ complaint and promising to recover the $26 million it paid Ms. Cowles for the RPS garage. But then the city pulled yet another bait and switch on its citizens. It let Ms. Cowles keep her stolen money, and, with the help of the IRS, saddled Spokane’s citizens with the cost of the Cowles robbery. See “A New RPS Fraud?”,

For evidence that Spokesman-Review publisher Stacey Cowles used the family’s paper to cover up the RPS crime, begin with “All in the Family,” See also, “Breaking the News,” There you’ll find evidence that Mr. Cowles turned his paper into a propaganda machine for his family’s highly organized criminal enterprise of illegally leveraging a minimum of $100 million in public funds to refurbish the Cowles family’s downtown shopping mall—River Park Square. You’ll also see evidence that when Mr. Cowles allowed his editor, Chris Peck, to twice attack former Mayor John Talbott as a “civic terrorist” for trying to expose the $23 million federal loan fraud, both Mr. Cowles and Mr. Peck were in possession of evidence showing that they knew they were falsely accusing him. That is, they were falsely accusing a mayor who was trying to expose the truth and serve those who elected him. This is the blackest of journalism sins. It’s known as “actual malice libel.” That refers to the intentional publication of a lie. Mr. Cowles’s purpose in publishing these lies was obviously to help the Cowles family with its massive public robbery. Mr. Peck’s purpose was apparently to keep his job as a handsomely paid Cowles bagman. To do that, he was willing to also become a hit man, assassinating in front of the community the character of mayor who deserved praise for his exemplary courage. Because the evidence shows that RPS represents continuing organized crime, and because there is no statute of limitations for such crime, I happen to believe that Mayor Talbott could at any time bring a civil RICO actual malice libel case against both Mr. Cowles and Mr. Peck. RICO provides for the recovery of treble damages, because its purpose is to destroy organized crime. The former mayor was the leader duly elected by the people of Spokane to protect them from the Cowles family’s $100 million RPS fraud. The evidence of fraud is settled. The evidence of actual malice libel is irrefutable. The evidence that Betsy and Stacey Cowles mounted a secret political campaign to defeat Talbott is also irrefutable. (See, “How a publishing heiress went after an uncooperative mayor: .)  The actual losses to the municipality of Spokane resulting from the Cowles family’s criminal character assassination of Mayor Talbott and clandestine political attack on him would require forensic accounting. But that would be pretty easy.

For further evidence of my allegations that RPS was public/private crime, you might wish to review: “Open Letter to an Ethicist” and “American Serbia,” below. See also,  which is an article about a national first-place journalism award for a 10-part reporting package titled “How The Spokesman-Review Subverted Democracy in Spokane, Washington.” See also“The Casino Was Rigged,” which describes the evidence of (un-prosecuted) crime found by the IRS:

Where’s the Anarchy?

So far, government watchdogs, bought and paid for by the private interests that control their bosses, carefully trained by their bosses not to bark when such crimes are committed, have obediently not barked. The watchdogs’ complicity just adds to a history that, as Mr. Adams’s email shows, can only get uglier so long as the perpetrators are not brought to justice.

The RPS crime is the reason that the specific number Mr. Adams is questioning—$45  million—raises the specter of the mayor’s anarchy.

The new layer of debt Mr. Cooley wants to lay on the public matches almost precisely the $44.8 million layer of debt that he and other public officials charged their citizens to pay off the RPS fraud that they had perpetrated on them.

“To me, what Cooley is trying to do has the appearance of refinancing the RPS fraud,” says Mr. Adams. “This should be discussed at least until 2030, which is when the RPS bond fraud will finally be paid off.”

Mary Verner, as she is well aware, plays a central role in this “scheme.” Scheme is what the IRS called it. In this scheme, then-Councilwoman Verner helped hold open the bag into which she and her fellow public servants illegally shoveled the swag of tens of millions of public dollars. And then they submissively handed the bag over to Betsy Cowles.

“A New RPS Fraud?” shows how upset Councilwoman Verner, who is also a lawyer, claimed to be about her role in this theft. But she did nothing about it. She joined the great pack of barkless watchdogs.

It’s the email Councilwoman Verner wrote to former Sheriff Tony Bamonte, when she was running for mayor, in which she convicts herself of anarchy. Anarchy, of course, is the dog-eat-dog chaos that results from an absence of government.

Sheriff Bamonte has been a prominent enough Democrat for decades that every electoral season candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, make a pilgrimage to his home, seeking his endorsement. Mary Verner did that when she ran for mayor in 2007.

Sheriff Bamonte said he would support her conditioned on her promise to prosecute the RPS crime, particularly the death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS garage. Bamonte had filed criminal complaints charging that Savage’s death was first-degree manslaughter resulting from Cowles neglect. (See “Deathtrap,” and “America’s Most Dangerous Cop,” and “American Serbia,” below.) Verner made that promise, according to Bamonte and others present at a meeting in the former sheriff’s home.

Afterward, Bamonte got worried, because Verner said nothing about RPS during her campaign. He called her on it and she responded with an email that deserves a prominent place in the RPS Document Hall of Shame. “I recognize the huge issues of morality, courage, and strength of character involved in taking on the RPS issue,” she wrote in her Nov. 2, 2007 email. “I also know that if I make RPS a cornerstone of my campaign platform, the ‘powers that be’ will ensure that I do not get elected … period.” [See “Powers that Be” link in “American Serbia,” below.]  

I’ve never been able to understand what possessed Verner to make such an admission to the former sheriff credited with solving the oldest open murder case in U.S. history. Did she really think that Tony Bamonte didn’t know the loneliness of taking on “powers that be?” But there you have it in the mayor’s own words—frank acknowledgment of the existence of public corruption in Spokane more powerful than the city’s government. Frank acknowledgment, too, that she lacked the “morality, courage, and strength of character” to confront it, even as she campaigned for a job that required her to do so. It’s hard to think of a better example of the most dangerous kind of anarchy there is—criminal government. Violent terrorists and Molotov cocktail-hurling street protesters are feeble by comparison.

Mayor Verner has declined to talk with me about her “powers that be” email.  She also declines to discuss an order she purportedly received from Betsy Cowles shortly after her election.

Sheriff Bamonte says that Shannon Sullivan, a close friend of Mayor Verner’s, contacted him last year with a disturbing account. Ms. Sullivan, the woman who led the successful drive to recall former Mayor Jim West over a sex abuse scandal, told Bamonte that she was in Verner’s office when Cowles called her and ordered her to take a trip with her. Bamonte told me at the time that Sullivan said the trip involved a flight on Cowles’s private jet.

I found Sullivan’s allegation interesting, because of the IRS findings that the Cowles family controls Spokane’s government. (See “The Casino Was Rigged,” linked above.)

When I asked Ms. Sullivan about the purported Verner/Cowles plane ride, she wrote back denying she had told Bamonte about it. Suzanne Bamonte, the former sheriff’s wife, says she was present when Ms. Sullivan related this account. I provided Ms. Sullivan a memo written by Mrs. Bamonte summarizing her recollection of Sullivan’s story. I requested Ms. Sullivan’s comment on Mrs. Bamonte’s memo. Ms. Sullivan did not respond. So far, Mayor Verner and Ms. Cowles have also not responded to my requests for comment on the alleged plane ride. If they do, I will post their comments here. Meanwhile, I invite Mayor Verner, Ms. Sullivan, and Ms. Cowles to post their comments about this matter here.

Dick Adams Email

Sullivan Denial

Suzanne Bamonte Statement


Filed under Public Corruption

Testament: Manifesto for Personal Action

With a long enough lever, said Archimedes, one could move the world. I think something like that lever exists and is in constant use between our ears. We just don’t pay enough attention to how we use it. But we all have memories of seeing the lever used. Here’s one of mine.

Burning Man

In 1967-68 I was a door gunner and then a crew chief on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam.

The gunner fired his M-60 machine gun from the right side of the ship. At night, after our long days were over, he was responsible for cleaning the ship’s weapons and repairing any damage.

The crew chief fired his M-60 from the left side of the ship. At night, he was responsible for readying the ship for the next day.

Wake-up was four in the morning. Lift-off was dawnish. We came home as darkness fell.

Sunset, Mekong Delta

If we got to bed by 10:00 we were lucky. Many times it was midnight. During the Tet Offensive I flew 48 hours straight without sleep. In the end I couldn’t keep my eyes open except when we were taking fire. When I stood down I couldn’t sleep because of all the adrenaline in my system. That’s what I know about bad drug trips.

My old Bien Hoa neighborhood after Tet

Our M-60s fired 550 rounds per minute and had an effective air-to-surface range of 2,200 meters. We sought to use them at distances much more up close and personal than that, however. On the ground M-60s were supposed to be fired in bursts of six to keep the barrels from overheating and producing jams. We considered our guns air-cooled weapons and used them like fire hoses.

We fired our 2.75 inch rockets, with their 10-pound warheads and 30-meter killing radius, from an average distance of a thousand feet. That was close enough that we sometimes broke our own chin bubbles with their explosions as we pulled out of our dives.

Gunner Shook

We fired our mini-guns—4,200 .30 caliber rounds per minute—when we were too close to use the rockets.

Crew chief Lucky Lakin, KIA January 1968.

I had the honor of flying with the highest performing, best aligned organization I have ever known, or even heard of: the Mustangs, our gun platoon.


Mustang pilot Ed Strazzini

Mustang pilot Roosevelt Webb

I was a very serious gunner—a helicopter gunship in Vietnam was no place for anyone who wasn’t serious.

Gunner Shook

But the Mustangs, when I flew with them, kept running out of crew chiefs. “High attrition,” the Army called it. I was serious enough, my bosses apparently thought, to be entrusted with an entire gunship. So they made me a crew chief.

I told them I was no motorhead, barely knew how to change a sparkplug back in the world.

“Fine,” they said. “You won’t be changing sparkplugs.”

Sandy Noyes, a wizened old man just turned 20, my own previous crew chief, taught me how to take care of a Bell UH-1C gunship.

Crew chief Noyes, left, and Mustang pilots Dave Holloway and the late Scott Alwin.

The Mustangs assigned me 667. She was more like a living creature to me than machine, part magic carpet, part dragon. I appreciated both qualities. You had to be there.

Every day, and many nights, 667 took us to war. Thanks to a flock of maintenance wizards, she always brought us home.

Crew chief Shook

Maintenance wizards

Even after they made me a crew chief, however, I cleaned my own M-60 every night.

Gas cylinder plug from my last M-60.

I loved the men I served with. I loved the infantrymen on the ground we tried to keep alive, although you could have tortured me at the time and I wouldn’t have admitted that. Testosterone toxicosis, you know. But it was love, all right. Each passing year makes that more and more clear.

I’ll put it this way: one of the most obscene things I’ve ever seen is the body of an American soldier wrapped in his poncho for transport off a battlefield. I have no idea how many of the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall I saw leave the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam that way, but too many.


I did not love the Vietnam War. It broke my heart. It left me with a profound confusion about where “home” really was. Six months into my 12-month tour, I did not regard our business in Vietnam as a fit enterprise for the America I had been raised to love by a father who served as a Marine in the Pacific and a mother who awaited his return. From then on, I was no longer working for “America.” I was working for my buddies. Period.

The white smoke marks a target. The target is a farm village. Vietcong have been shooting at Americans from the village. The village is about to disappear in an air strike by Phantom jets.

A village dies.

Anyone who has been in a war will tell you that it feels like being a grain of sand in a sandstorm.

“Support our troops, support America?” Chalk and cheese, as far as I’m concerned. Any politician who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you a share in the Brooklyn Bridge. I respectfully submit that our troops are best supported by not throwing their lives away, not by swallowing government propaganda about throwing their lives away.

The helicopters that inserted the troops into battle were called slicks. (Their sides were slick—no heavy metal weaponry protruding.)


One day a single slick I was covering was inserting a load of grunts. As the aircraft flared to land, a command-detonated mine exploded right beneath it. The slick flipped upside down, stuffing its rotors in the mud, making its engine explode in a pulse of air that flattened the green rice in a circle all around it. Then guys scrambled out in furious low-crawls, leaving trails in the mud. I’m looking down from maybe 15o feet. Safety off. Waiting for the rest of the ambush to continue. If it had, we would have been on it like a match on gas fumes.

The slick started to burn. No flames, but heat waves were dancing over it. It was like watching a helicopter sink in clear water. It took a while to re-establish radio communication with the ground troops. Pretty soon the ground commander told us that everyone had gotten out. We called that “un-assing the aircraft.”

But then the voice in our headsets said, “No no wait a minute shit the gunner’s still in there he looks OK he’s just trapped we can see him struggling shit!”

Tongues of flame began licking the dead helicopter. The air-shimmer rapidly increased. In ones and twos and threes, grunts, who were hunkered behind the nearby dike line for cover, sprinted toward the slick to save the gunner. It took tremendous courage to do that, because they made themselves easy targets. But as they approached the crash, their hands would come up to shield their faces from the heat, and then they would turn back.

Finally, a lone figure sprinted from the dike. When he hit the wall of heat he plunged through and kept going. From above it was like watching a halfback run a draw play. The rescuer dove into the crashed slick, which was now shooting serious flames.

Nothing. Now we were watching two men burn alive, waiting for the inevitable fireball.

And then, there they were, one man dragging another out of hell. Next morning, someone pointed the rescuer out to me in the mess hall. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t a member of our aviation unit. I think he must have been one of the Crickets stationed with us. These were long-range recon guys who went out in small patrols to scout and set up the landing and pick-up zones.

Something made me approach him. He was a handsome, powerfully built black kid. Gray smudges dappled his face where the heat had burned him. His eyebrows were singed. His hair was singed where the heat got under his helmet.

“Why’d you do it?” I asked. Even to me the question sounded stupid.

He just shrugged his shoulders. A black kid, drafted probably, saving a probably drafted white kid, just because. That was Vietnam.

But it wasn’t “just because.” I understood that instantly, and it was a life-giving understanding, even if I wasn’t fully conscious of what I understood. Now I think I get it. That rescuer was prizing away at the world with his built-in Archimedes lever.

And I don’t think he did it “just because,” not if “just because” suggests there is no implicate order in the universe, governing our lives by invisible forces. Not if “just because” suggests that symbiogenesis isn’t our lot, connecting all of us to each other all the time, connecting everything that is, ever was and ever will be.

What that rescuer taught me was that all we can ever do in life is act. Act we do. The only real question is how we act. How we act connects us to the flow of all that is, was, and ever will be. And only we can decide on that connection.

Elegant, no?

How we decide to act, then—this is what I believe—is how we make our life.

So What?

I share this belief, because it informs everything you see in this blog and the half-million or so words of reporting and documentation linked to it. I’m still a Mustang, you see. I decided long ago to never stop being one.

Judging from comments people make to me, I know the reporting suggests to some that American governance has become a wasteland. The reporting documents that Spokane, my fair city, second largest city in Washington State, is controlled by organized crime. It documents that Democrats and Republicans are equally complicit in this sordid state of affairs, and that every level of government in the land, now including the Dreamworks of the Obama White House, is implicated.

But I don’t think the evidence means that American government has become a wasteland. All any government can ever be is reflective. If we don’t like the reflection we see, I think we have to study the face in the mirror to see what we don’t like. And then we act.

It’s not that we should act. Or that we must act. It’s that we do act. And that action creates a reflection. That’s what I believe.

It wasn’t American government that pulled that kid from the burning helicopter before my eyes. And the turpitude, avarice and deep moral confusion that sent the rescuer to Vietnam had nothing to do with the decision he made, the action he took, the lingering reflection he left in my mind, and now in your mind, too.

That’s the point I’m trying to make. And the reason I’m trying to make it is because people keep asking me what, in the face of the daunting evidence we all face about the mess the world is in—including evidence contained in my reporting—can the average person do about it?

The question concerns me, because the last thing I want to do with my reporting is contribute to what psychologists tell us is the epidemic of “learned helpless” now plaguing us.  But I also love the question, because I love the answer. The answer, the rescuer taught me, is this: do what you can. That’s all we can ever do. And it is the joyful reality of life that that’s enough. #

All photos copyright Larry Shook.


Filed under Public Corruption, Vietnam Veterans