WSU to Study Iraq Toxins' Effect

by Bert Caldwell

Research to examine how exposure might damage offspring of soldiers

Washington State University scientists will use a $1.7 million grant to study what multi-generation genetic damage might be done by toxins U.S. troops could encounter in Iraq.

The research using laboratory rats, not humans, will be the first for the military to examine the epigenetic effects of pesticides, herbicides and other compounds, said lead scientist Michael Skinner, director of the university's Center for Reproductive Biology.

Previous studies have looked at the health effects of other substances, notably the Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles in Vietnam, on the soldiers directly exposed, he said, not on their children or grandchildren.

"The science really had not caught up with the trans-generational stuff," said Skinner, one of several WSU pioneers in the field of epigenetic, or multi-generational, inheritance.

Besides herbicides and pesticides – which and in what combinations has not been determined – the study also will look at the effects of explosives residues, he said.

The four-year study will allow researchers to see how any changes in genetic chemistry that develop are passed along through two subsequent generations of rats, he said, noting that only the first two years of research have been funded.

Among the problems that might develop are kidney disease, or changes in the male and female reproductive organs, he said.

If any genetic markers are identified in rats, Skinner said, follow-up research could look at whether they might show up among members of the military as well.

That would be of particular interest to Dave Holmes, interim chief operating officer of the Institute for Systems Medicine, which was awarded the U.S. Department of Defense grant passed through to Skinner.

Holmes' son, Tim Hammond, did two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps.

"They sprayed all kinds of stuff on them," Holmes said.

Although the grant money, the first awarded ISM, will fund work in Pullman, he said the organization's supporters hope any subsequent clinical studies will be done in Spokane.

"There's a lot of excitement about making it happen," he said.
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Part 2
by Jim Strickland

  Vicki Olson tells me that all she wanted to do when she met her veteran Mike was “wash his clothes and pursue the American dream.”

Vicki knew Mike had some issues left over from his wartime experiences. He was rated as 100% disabled and VA had labeled him as incompetent. His mother had been named as his payee and helped him manage his funds.

Mike was doing better and in 2003 and he married Vicki. He was approved by all the authorities to adopt her child. Mike and Vicki saw this as another opportunity to keep doing better in mainstream life in America and applied to VA at that point for release from the oversight of the VA fiduciary program.

The VA denied the application to release him from the fiduciary oversight but they did change his payee to Vicki and the newlyweds saw that as progress. The program wasn’t too tough to deal with and the Field Examiner was local and mostly available when they had any needs.

In 2008 VA centralized the program to the Regional Office. Now Field Examiner Nancy Grabman was in charge. On the first home visit, Ms. Grabman insisted that they sell a motorcycle that had been owned in whole by them long ago...Vicki held the title to the bike and any expenses were minor. But...Vicki complied and there went the bike.

This was the beginning; “I’m here from the VA and I’m going to help you.”

Field Examiner Grabman began to send out warnings regarding unauthorized purchases, notices about access to Mike’s money and “protection clauses”. This had never been the case before so Vicki and Mike were unsure of what was expected of them. Vicki asked for some written guidelines so they would know the rules. Vicki was told that “The rules are subject to change and each case is different.”

It seemed VA was telling them; “We make the rules but we don’t have to tell you. At any time we may change the rules and you are expected to know them. It isn’t our responsibility”.

Does any of this sound familiar?

In December of 2008, the Olsons were verbally informed they had exceeded the guidelines of a purchase authorization amount. They didn’t understand the issue as they hadn’t received anything in writing to tell them of any such guidelines. Vicki was verbally reprimanded by VA during a field visit in 2009. An audit was conducted in February of 2009 and didn’t uncover or record any violations. The audit and its findings received approval by VA 02/25/2010. It took almost a year but the audit was clean.

During this time, 02/01/2010, Vicki tried to contact Grabman regarding a loan payoff and to seek permission to purchase a washer and dryer that they needed. When Ms. Grabman didn’t return the call, Vicki tried twice more. Then on 02/19/2009 Vicki filed a complaint with the call center. Vicki was desperate for some help, the FE wasn’t returning her calls and she complained.

Suddenly, she was hearing from Grabman again. Grabman was calling day and night, weekends included. She was demanding short notice inspections and visits and the Olsons felt compelled to file a written complaint 03/15/2010. All during this time Grabman had continued to refuse to address the request for a washer and dryer.

Then it happened...Vicki was to be punished for being uppity. She shouldn’t have complained, not even if the complaint was justified. A field visit occurred on 03/23/2010 and by 04/07/2010 a new payee...a VA appointed fiduciary, had signed papers taking charge of Mike’s money.

Vicki told me,

“Documents were signed by a new payee on 4/7/10.  I must have really messed up in this one month to get this kind of immediate action from the VA.  These documents list intent to name Joana Springmier of Greenfield Banking Co. as Mike’s Legal Guardian.  We pay her 4% of comp., but Springmier takes her direction from the VA.”

She goes on,

“Jim, Bills that have never been late (many in my name per VA policy) are now facing disconnects and cancellations.  We have asked for bank statements, but have not received one.  The VA has me paying the monthly Tri-Care premium, but the bank denied paying his child’s co-pay.  We have requested funds for car repairs that were ignored.  Our complaints were not ignored; an on-line argument occurred with Springmier, and we ended up hiring an attorney. This whole process has threatened every civil liberty that my husband and many other disabled veterans fought to defend. 

It doesn’t seem to matter to me that they violated a few of mine; all I wanted to do was wash his clothes. Today, I fight for my disabled husband and the return of our American Dream. I watched an ABC news program today.  It was a story about the epidemic of service member suicide.  It was a reminder of everything Mike has overcome and everything the VA is denying him.  How can they promote readjustment; therapy, sobriety, and family/social ties when Mike has been following that path for the last 13 years.

Mike and I were doing well considering our challenges. That was until VA stepped in to help us. His mental and physical health has since deteriorated and I’m not doing very well myself.

Most frustrating is the total lack of response from VA. It’s been made obvious that we have no rights at all. There isn’t one person at VA who will hear us when we seek their attention. I feel like I’m in prison. Please help us Jim.”

Vicki and Mike have been forced to hire a lawyer. The lawyer’s efforts have not been effective to date.

(Below, the letter from the lawyer to the bank fiduciary)

   May 9, 2010
   Ms. Joana Springmier, Trust Officer
   Greenfield Bank
   1920 N. State Street
   Greenfield, Indiana 46140

   Re: (Redacted)

   Dear Ms. Springmier:

   I represent Michael J.(Redacted).

   According to the April 15, 2010 correspondence to you from S.E. Draves, Veteran Service Center Manager, you were appointed fiduciary over Michael (Redacted) Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.

   Unfortunately, in your April 26, 2010 e-mail correspondence to Mr. (Redacted) you indicate that you are a fiduciary for the Veterans Administration, not Mr. (Redacted).

   Once the funds reach your bank, you become the fiduciary for Mr. (Redacted) , not the Department of Veterans Affairs .

   Mr. (Redacted) forwarded bills to you, but you have been delinquent in paying those bills. For instance, the (Redacted) send you their utility bill immediately upon receipt. You will note that City Utilities sent them a Final Notice Prior To Disconnection as a result of your failure to make timely payments. The (Redacted) sent you a copy of the invoice for their motor vehicle insurance. You failed to pay that invoice on time, which resulted in the enclosed Notice of Cancellation.

   In addition, on June 19,2010 Mr. (Redacted) requested you to pay for his daughter's insurance co-pay.

   Without citing any applicable law, you refused to pay the dependent's co-pay insurance.

   Prior to your appointment, these bills, as well as all other bills, were being paid on time by the (Redacted)

   Your failure to make timely payments of the (Redacted) necessary and ordinary living expenses have created undue hardship, and may affect their credit rating. (Mr. (Redacted) has a copy of his credit report if you care to see it. I am not certain you have legal authority to access it on your own.)

   I request that you contact me if I have inaccurately stated any fact in this letter, and specifically indicate which facts I have misrepresented. If I do not hear from you, I will proceed  under the basis that you failed to timely pay Mr. (Redacted) legitimate living expenses and advise him accordingly.

   Very truly yours,

   KCL:kmk, Enclosures

Vicki continues;

“The VA has not liked that I have gotten outside forces involved. The VA and bank have been more responsive to letters sent to vendors. The bank did not appreciate the view I placed on review boards(ie: yellow,,etc.)

I drew this V.P./Trust Officer out and have documentation that she takes her direction from the VA even though she draws a 4% commission from the veteran.

This is one dirty little secret that the VA does not want exposed, and given current views on bank-government relations, neither does the banking industry. They do not want to see the headlines that disabled veterans provide additional bailouts for the banks involved. 

These direct deposit accounts represent assets and big money for the banks; they do not like that I have pointed out this connection that most would not think of. The VA, due to the attention we have drawn, have taken the threat that the veteran would rather starve than be under fiduciary quite seriously and recognize that that would also play out badly for them. We did not make this threat until after we were sure we had public opinion and our local news story out. In short, the VA does not know what to do with someone who will bite the hand that feeds them.”

You aren’t alone Vicki.

Vicki  07/14/2010

“Jim, I know I ain’t alone, that’s what scares me.  How about having the Regional Director noting (documented) a lack of due process.  I can send you that, as he tried to justify the intent of guardianship as having never been followed through with State filing.  Like that is supposed to make this threat ok or not abusive.  It seems that any way you look at it the "incompetent" disabled veterans have no civil rights with the VA.” 

It’s a bit of an afterthought at this point, but Vicki...just how incompetent is your husband?

Jim, See the attached document. That should answer your questions.

(The mentioned document is available here for viewing or download.)

A good friend, a VA employee who is loyal to VA and to the veterans he serves, wrote to let me know I’d reported on what were likely isolated incidents and that my stories don’t reflect the real state of the VA fiduciary program.

The email excerpts below represent a few of what I have in my mailbox.

03/19/2009 (A veteran writes to me...)

I started searching your website and found it absolutely valuable in helping me to get through all the steps regarding taking care of my husband's affairs.  Here's where I need your help.  I've read some of the articles about fiduciary appointments, but I think I have a good one for you.

I followed the military's instruction to apply for VA benefits when my husband was medically retired in October 2008.  When it was determined by the VA that my husband was mentally incompetent to oversee his finances, it was also determined by the VA that a fiduciary would be necessary and since I was the spouse that would be me.  Well, a field representative came to our house and did some paperwork processing.   Two days later, he called me to tell me that I could not be my husband's fiduciary because my credit score wasn't 750.  I proceeded to tell him that was because of the several month lapse in pay from the stoppage of military retirement to waiting for VA benefits which had not begun that our bills fell behind and my score dropped even further because he (the field rep) made an inquiry.  He proceeded to tell me that he was appointing a bank to oversee my husband's benefits and that that bank was going to charge a 5% service fee!!!!! (yikes!!).

To my surprise, two weeks ago, I got a letter from the VA stating a final decision had been made and that I was my husband fiducairy and they were releasing his back benefits.  Today, I get a letter from a lawyer stating I was being sued by the bank who had been appointed as fiduciary because they were the fiduciary and not me.

05/30/2009 (A veteran writes to me...)

Jim, I have many questions for you beginning with where can I find a manual about fiduciary rules that are easy for a lay person to read? Is there such a manual?  Are there advocates to help a family or veteran work with the Fiduciary department?  How can you get them to call you back when you have problems? Do you hear of others who are having difficulty dealing with this system?  Where are the checks and balances when it comes to both the fiduciary unit/field examiner/court appointed fiduciaries.  It seems to me that they have more leeway and the ability to not to disclose information to the veteran and his family who have the right and deserve to know.  It seems to me that this can get out of hand and no one is helping the veteran deal with this huge system.

08/14/2009 (A veteran writes to me...)

Jim; I'll get right to the point.  I am writing on behalf of my 23 year old son who served in Iraq with the Oregon Guard in 2005. I believe that his fiduciary may be "misappropriating" his funds and I would like to help him find someone who can check into this.  He continuously asks to see copies of his accounting...she says that she will provide him with a copy and then she changes her mind. This is only the tip of the iceberg. If you have any information that I can pass onto my son, it would be greatly appreciated.  Your site is impressive and thank you for all the hard work that you folks do.

10/29/2009 (A veteran writes to me...)

Hello, I am my brothers VA  appointed custodian for his VA funds and court appointed conservator for his other monies, such as social security. My brothers field examiner seems to have a problem with me being his conservator. I receive no monetary benefit from the VA or court for handling my brothers money. My brother lives on the same property I live on.  This field examiner even went so far as to instruct  one of the clerks in the court to stop my bid to become my brothers conservator. However it did not work for her and I still was able to become his conservator. Last week I sent 8 faxes to the regional office in Columbia, S.C. to request a golf cart for my brother and she said she did not receive any of them. I then was able to contact someone else at the regional office and send them the same fax and they got it immediately. So what is up with this lady? I am beginning to think that she is funneling conservator-ships into the hands of certain people to empower them monetarily. Others after all receive compensation for handling veterans monies, I don't. Can you give me some good advice, please?

12/10/2009 (A veteran writes to me...)

Dear Mr Strickland, A little over a year ago I was appointed fiduciary and custodian of my then boyfriend. He is an OIF veteran who is 100% combat connected disabled with a host of problems, PTSD being the most notable to the VA. We didn't feel he needed a fiduciary, but after fighting with the VA over his case we didn't have to energy to continue the fight against him being deemed unable to care for his own affairs. And since I was willing, we decided to go ahead and submit to them on this detail.

Three weeks ago I was sent a threatening letter and needless to say, when I was appointed fiduciary I was given incomplete and down right wrong information about how to do the job and what was expected. I have been clearing up this issue, but I have a simple question because the information I get from them always seems to be off the mark a bit.

My veteran and I were married at the end of November of this year. I was told that now that we are married I no longer have to provide them with a penny by penny accounting for his benefits.  Do you know if this is correct?

Vicki continues Mike’s story;

“I watched an ABC news program today.  It was a story about the epidemic of service member suicide.  It was a reminder of everything Mike has overcome and everything the VA is denying him.  How can they promote readjustment; therapy, sobriety, and family/social ties when Mike has been following that path for the last 13 years (and yet they treat him like this).

We have never met or had any type of personal contact with Springmier, except the "official" one line letter of where to send our bills.  All business has been on-line.  I cannot tell you exactly what Mike is paying her (our estimate $130.00 month) because we have not seen where any of his comp. has gone since April.  The VA claims that they are doing us a favor, we are having $300 per month into savings, but we have no proof or bank statement. 

Springmier is not available to us and we were told by Grabman (verbal) that ‘she is one of the best Trust officers that the VARO uses, and successfully manages over 30 disabled veterans accounts."’ Apparently she is available to the VA and not the Veteran.

As the VA knows, we have not been able to find an attorney to represent a VA issue.  We approached the attorney about the banks responsibilities as fiduciary.  I pointed out that it may be apples and oranges, but that Cushman v. Shinseki shows that the disabled vet has an entitlement to these funds that is protected by the constitution as property.  This was the approach that the attorney took with the bank, and there has been no response from either the bank or VA. 

The attorney has let me know that when I have taken care of all administrative appeals he will pick up our case in civil court, he has looked at all my documentation.

We were given no chance to appeal or any type of hearing in this matter, it was decided 13 years ago when deemed incompetent.  Once incompetent the VA does not recognize the vets "state of mind in these matters" (again verbal).  Basically, the veteran is crazy and cannot make these decisions for himself.  As FE Grabman informed me (verbally) "I no longer have to deal with you, please put Mike on the phone."  This was on 4/15/10 when we were notified of the changes dated 4/7.  It was all done so quickly and without our knowledge that my head is still spinning.”

Vicki’s most recent email to me;

“Money being "conserved" for the veterans use is not being released for anything that people save for. Our banker hung up on Mike when he asked why she would not make authorizations (like car repairs) that fall under $1,000. Keep in mind, that $70 per month is taken out for CAR REPAIRS, seperate from the savings they are forcing on us.  We still have not received so much as a bank statement.  We sat and guessed at what this woman makes from disabled veterans; we were told that she handles over 30 veteran files and multiplied this by the amount we pay, for a total of about $4,000 per month.

As time goes on, the VA is no longer hearing my noise, and this is where I need your help Jim.  We believe that the VA is waiting for my voice to be quieted, and then intend on denying Mike competency.  They will then actively seek his total legal guardianship.  Please help me tell the VA that I married a wonderful man, not an abusive government agency.  The mail just arrived, no word from the VA today 7/28/10.

I have been sitting here reading the post comments from part one, and considering the sample letters included in my part.  Then I start thinking about how to make a change.  The answer I come up with is UNITY.  Please feel free to release my e-mail address, if it can help to help reach others and share not only our ideas; but also our experience, strength, and hope.  We have the chance to speak up now, before the multitude of newly qualified PTSD disabled veterans get pulled in.  I want to be hated and feared too!!!!  THANK YOU.”

Hello, I’m from the VA and I’m going to help you.

Is the fiduciary system running on sheer incompetence, an utter lack of caring and respect for what the PTSD afflicted veteran suffered to get to this point or is there a conspiracy to defraud hapless, helpless veterans of the right to due process as well as their money?

Are the most fragile and the weakest of our ranks singled out for the bullying of the fiduciary only because of their complete lack of defenses?

A few facts, some opinions and then you decide:

Title 38 - Chapter I Part 3 - 3.353

Determinations of incompetency and competency.

(3)(e) Due process. Whenever it is proposed to make an incompetency determination, the beneficiary will be notified of the proposed action and of the right to a hearing as provided in 3.103. Such notice is not necessary if the beneficiary has been declared incompetent by a court of competent jurisdiction or if a guardian has been appointed for the beneficiary based upon a court finding of incompetency. If a hearing is requested it must be held prior to a rating decision of incompetency.
Sarah Wade, Coordinator, Family Issues and Traumatic Brain Injury, Wounded Warrior Project
Parents and spouses who over time have surely proven their dedication to their loved one, too often encounter a VBA system marked by its rigidity, intrusiveness, and unreasonableness when it conducts oversight of those caregivers in their role as the veteran’s fiduciary.

Let me illustrate my point by way of examples:

   * A VBA field examiner imposing a summer-vacation expenditure limit for a profoundly wounded warrior, his wife and two children;
   * A mother/caregiver having to explain to a VBA examiner why she allowed her wounded-warrior son to spend “too much” money on Christmas gifts;
   * The spouse/caregiver of a traumatically brain-injured veteran having to get permission from a VBA field examiner to purchase a couch;
   * A devoted mother-caregiver to her minimally-conscious son being required to pay back money for toilet paper purchased for the home with the veteran's funds;
   * A family’s being questioned about expenditures for gasoline when the wounded warrior does not drive or own a car, but the fuel was used to transport the veteran;
   * Several instances of mothers, who are full-time caregivers to wounded veterans, being required to pay rent to the veteran rather than residing in the home for “free;”
   * A field examiner denying a mother-caregiver’s request to replace the (now-wheelchair bound) veteran’s eight year-old high-mileage truck that she uses to transport him in a rural, snowy part of the country; and
   * A mother-caregiver having to relinquish her role as a fiduciary because she had had to declare bankruptcy after leaving her job to care for her wounded warrior son.

Hon. John J. Hall, Chairman, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

From October 1998 to March 2010, the VA OIG’s Office of Investigations reports that it conducted 315 fiduciary fraud investigations, resulting in 132 arrests and monetary recoveries of $7.4 million in restitution, fines, penalties, and administrative judgments.  One of these cases involved the submission of false financial reports by a fiduciary who attempted to conceal her embezzlement of nearly $1 million from 33 disabled veterans whose accounts she managed.  The funds embezzled by the fiduciary were reportedly used to support her gambling habit.

Overall, there is no rational person on our planet who wouldn’t declare that the Department of Veterans Affairs is broken and wobbling badly on its axis.

There are moments that it spins completely, insanely out of control. The backlog of a million claims is one moment. The politics surrounding additions to the Agent Orange presumptive list is another moment. The fiduciary process and the total and complete lack of any accountability by any of the players is another moment.

These are not isolated incidents. There is no official who can point to all of the evidence and not conclude that there is a distinct pattern of abusive and often criminal behavior that is accepted within the fortress-like walls of your VA.

There is no argument to say that the system works, clearly does not. It causes more harm and wastes more money than if there were no fiduciary program at all.

Now what?

The OIG seems your only hope. Write to the VA OIG and let them know your story of neglect and suspicious activities that are known to you. Overall the VA OIG is an impotent paper tiger and has no bite but with enough of you telling your story, you never know.

We stopped the illegal shredding of your most important documents, maybe you can convince OIG to bring this to a halt too.


This was only to be 2 parts. I’ve received notice a couple of hours ago from a Texas reader that goes;

“I (have investigated the fiduciary scam here before) and found that there are several homes in the Waco area whose owners are either kin or they are friends, they all keep veterans in their homes, they are registered with the state, and are paid by the VA for each veteran, AND, they are writing up wills on these veterans, giving their money to their families and themselves.  I have...wills in my possession.  One veteran had approximately 1 million dollars in his estate, another had over $300,000.  I have proof of the kinship, copies of the wills and contact information on the families involved.  I'm looking forward to speaking with you soon.”

And speak with me soon she shall.

Can this be true? Can a Waco/Houston fiduciary really be earning $350.00 per month for his small services to Rick as well as other veterans? Is it the water they drink there? I’ll let you know the facts as I find out what’s wrong in Waco.

PART 1 of 2
Veterans' Advocate Jim Strickland looks at the dark side of the VA's fiduciary program.  Or: "I'm from the VA, and I'm here to help."

by Jim Strickland

NO, I wasn’t particularly surprised at the email when it arrived.


   My name is (redacted) and I'm the President of the (redacted bank). I am also a veteran.

   I have a customer who has a stepfather and the stepfather gets VA benefits. The VA claims the stepdaughter has been taking advantage of him and not taking proper care of him. I have known this gal for several years, I have made loans to the stepfather, and am well acquainted with both of them. I am extremely confident she would never to anything to upset or take advantage of her stepfather. He raised her since she was a child and she loves him dearly.

   Anyway, the VA office in Wichita, Mr. McGivern decided she was taking advantage of him and took her to court and got her removed as his trustee, got a nasty attorney from Topeka appointed as the trustee, she has submitted a bill for $6,700 to prosecute the VA's case and the VA is going to make him pay for this out of the VA funds he has saved. ($17,000) when I had to send it to the new trustee.

   There is not doubt these are all bogus allegations but I don't know how to fight these bastards. You have any suggestions?”

The bank president is referring to a particularly brutal program that VA is using more often in recent times. This legal maneuver by VA is known as a fiduciary appointment.

In a nutshell, if you’re a veteran with PTSD or another mental health problem, your VA can swoop down on you before you understand just what is happening and declare that you are incompetent to manage the riches that VA has so generously given you. Once the declaration of incompetence is made, VA will appoint the “fiduciary” to help you with that money.

For those of you who might not have heard me say it before, there are three great lies. (1) Of course I’ll respect you in the morning darling. (2) The check is in the mail. (3) Hello, I’m from the VA and I’m going to help you.

As you’ll soon understand, if you hear (3), don’t walk, run. Run like the wind.

The GAO explains the VA fiduciary program like this; “Many individuals receiving monthly compensation and pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have mental impairments that prevent them from managing their finances. VA’s Fiduciary Program selects and oversees third parties, called fiduciaries, to help manage and protect beneficiaries’ funds.”

That doesn’t sound too evil, does it? After all, some veterans who are incapacitated may need some help managing money and personal affairs and if they don’t have a trusted family member, society is obligated to provide some sort of help. In this case it would be appropriate that help would come through the VA.

Hold that thought for a moment. If it’s true that VA appoints fiduciaries to “help manage and protect beneficiaries’ funds”, why did Richard Wortham of Mesquite, Texas write to me in January 2010?

Mr. Wortham tells me, “Hi Jim, The VA assigned a fiduciary for my dad without notifying me until it was done. He has $75,000.00 in his account at the nursing home where he lives. Some of the money in that account was his own personal savings that he had transferred there from his bank. They have recently transferred all of his money back to his bank but his fiduciary has total control.

(As his son) I hold his durable power of attorney and I do have control of his social security. Is there any way to get the fiduciary reversed? Also, what happens to the money in his bank when he dies? Does the VA keep it?”

Good question, Richard. As you’ll see, the way VA is managing his money for him, there won’t be enough left to worry about. The burn rate of your dad’s hard earned savings is rising to the “Wildfire” setting.

The nightmare is only now beginning for Richard and his veteran dad. Rick continues the story later; “Jim I have a durable POA for my dad and I was completely overlooked to handle his affairs. I have been caring for him for the last eight years he has been in VA nursing home in Bonham, Texas. I get him out on week-ends...(we think he was) declared incompetent by his doctor...without notifying me.

Me and Dad have a attorney but he doesn't know how to go about getting fiduciary turned around. I live in Mesquite Texas. The appointed fiduciary is a Marcus Brown and he is charging Dad 350.00 a month to give Dad 25.00 a week of his own money. He also has had checks made out in his name from Dads accounts. We just want to be back in charge of Dads funds. Dad can’t care for himself but he does know about his money and is upset they have done this.”

In an email on 02/02/2010 Richard writes, “Jim, I have done exactly as you told me (our family lawyer helped us write a letter) and hopefully it will get their attention. The fiduciary Marcus Brown has denied to pay Dads attorney fees with his funds so I may have to do this out of pocket ok though I will. Also he has put a block on both of Dads accounts one monthly installments the other his own personal life savings. We are furious over this. Will keep you posted thanks for all your help and advise. Rick”

Rick’s story goes on. He offers us evidence that dad was admitted to the VA nursing home he’s in over 8 years ago. Since that time Rick has managed all his dad’s affairs with the aforementioned durable POA. Dad has a healthy sum of money in the bank that his son Rick has helped him to manage all these years. Rick has visited his father so often that he knows everyone in the VA nursing home facility from housekeepers to managers and they know him.

The bottom line; Rick has a responsible and caring relationship with his dad. This is just how life should be, a son caring for his dad.

In some odd way in January 2010, the VA suddenly determined that dad was “incompetent”. It took the Waco VA Regional Office 8 long years to notice dad was in a VA nursing home and they then decided that action was necessary. Without notifying his closest relative (remember the loving son with the POA?), the Waco VA sent in Field Agent Allen Staggs to interview the veteran.

Mr. Staggs, knowing an incompetent veteran when he sees one, decided that the appointment of a $350.00 per month VA fiduciary was the perfect answer. He fielded this one to Mr. Brown and that sealed that deal.

The veteran didn’t understand what was going on until his son noticed that he had no access to pay dad’s bills. There was no hearing, no judge was involved, nobody from VA bothered to speak with any family members. The veteran father hardly remembered the brief visit from the stranger from the VA who told him what we can only presume was, “I’m here to help you.”

Son Rick eventually got through to Mr. Larry Clary of the Waco Fiduciary Department and sent multiple copies of the POA, his dad’s will, the documentation that Rick has control of dad’s Social Security payments and so on.

Mr. Clary made it very clear none of any of that mattered. The fiduciary appointment would be in place 3 years before it would be given consideration for any modification. It seems that VA isn’t required to respond to a NOD concerning the appointment of a fiduciary or the declaration of incompetence.

Rick wrote letters (with help from the family attorney) and sent them via certified mail. In February, a letter to NOD the fiduciary appointment. In March, another letter was sent to the Waco Regional Office requesting review and action and marked as “2nd notice”.

(NOTE:  Letters are available here for viewing or download.  Letter #1 is here ... Letter #2 is here.)

In each case, the Letter was copied to Nancy Canonico Esq., WACO Regional Counsel (674A4/02), Department of Veterans Affairs, 4800 Memorial Drive, Building 12 Waco, TX 76711.

An April 2010 email from Richard to me read; “We will do whatever it takes to get my Dads funds back into his control my son spoke with a (VA Certified) attorney in Plano that told him there’s a big scam going that the field agents are convincing the nursing homes to encourage the veterans to put their funds in the VA account system then fiducierys are appointed to oversee multiple veterans @ 350.00 a veteran invest their funds as they please whether the investment gains or loses monies without the veterans approval or knowledge. If a veteran passes away they keep all funds for the good of the veterans administration Somthing really wrong with all of this he also said the only way to recover posession of funds was to take him out and care for him myself. We are considering this as a last resort I’ll be standing by to do whatever just let me know Jim and thank you.”

In May there was “still no reply from VA” The Regional Office in Waco and VA General Council, Waco VA elected to ignore the veteran and his family.

By that time, the Wortham family was at the end of their rope.

On Monday May 10th 2010 Richard wrote me again, “Jim, We are going to get Dad out of VA To come live with us. Will they turn his monies back over to him at that time? can you find out still no reply from VA thanks”

By June the situation has become unbearable for them all. Rick writes to tell me, “Jim We have decided to take Dad out of the VA nursing home and allow him to live with us and care for him as his primary caretaker we no longer will need a fiduciary over him and his monies I have consulted...attorneys and they think this may be the only way to be able to demand they put my Dad back in charge of his savings and monthly allotments.”

I’m sorry to tell you this Richard, that won’t do the trick either.

You see, the VA system has a lock on terms like “bulletproof” and “Teflon jacket”. They’ve found that you and your dad are easy prey and once they’ve tasted the amount of money to be made from him, they won’t let go that easily. The $350.00 per month multiplied a great many times over adds up to real money.

That Mr. Brown charges $350.00 per month flies in the face of the law that generally caps such fees at 4% as well as the intent of the fiduciary appointment:

§13.64 Fiduciary commissions.

Generally, a VA appointed fiduciary is to be encouraged to serve without fee.

The son was able to “serve without fee” and with the veteran father amassing $75,000.00 in his bank account, by all appearances he was doing a pretty good job. But that wasn’t enough for VA. The Waco RO found the veteran alone and defenseless with an awful lot of money stashed away with the help of his loving family. This was irresistible.

In April, May and June Rick and his dad noticed that the bank account was becoming drained. More calls were made, more letters written and as you’ve guessed by now, nobody from the Waco system has contacted Rick or his veteran father.

Earlier this year we heard it through VA Watchdog dot Org. The GAO said the VA fiduciary program was in “disarray” and that “staff said that they did not always comply with VA policies”.

More recently we hear that a VA appointed fiduciary and his wife stole millions of dollars from disabled veterans they were supposed to be helping.

This story isn’t much different. rick told me there was no hearing to determine dad’s competence, “per Mandy Brooks his case worker no notice and not sure he was even determined (incompetent) per his case his VA Doctor Shandra”

By all appearances, the VA Field examiner made the declaration of incompetence himself with information gathered during a single, brief meeting.

Here is how it is Rick.

Just because you and your dad have a loving relationship and just because you have a solid history of taking care of him and his money as a good son should do and just because he now lives with you in your home is no reason for Mr. Marcus Brown to give up that $350.00 each month. That wouldn’t be right you see.

It’s the VA coming to help you and they always know what’s best for we veterans, don’t they?

This is how your VA cares for you and your seems almost...paternalistic doesn’t it?

July 6 2010; Rick writes to me, “Dad @ home now living with us still persuing for him to be back in control of his funds sent formal request with Dallas VA Jim Pearston counselor still searching for VA attorney if you can help Thanks Rick”

July 27th 2010 and the veteran is home living with his son and family. No attorney has volunteered to take the case. The family attorney involved early on wasn’t certified by VA and changed jobs soon after this all started.

There is no response yet from the Waco VA. The veteran no longer enjoys the care he had at the nursing home. The stress on the family has been enormous. The veterans funds dwindle down.

The family remains convinced that Mr. Brown continues to use Mr. Wortham’s money for his personal investments.

The GAO and OIG continue to issue reports that VA routinely brushes off as they would a gnat.

Due process anyone? Hello, anyone?

There was a question posed at the beginning of all this. I owe an answer.

I’m sorry Mr. Bank President. I have no suggestions about how to fight the bastards.

The best advice I have is that I gave earlier. If at any time you have a knock on the door and a voice tells you, “Hello, I’m from the VA and I’m going to help you.”

Don’t walk.



Next up, Thursday, July 29, 2010: Why does the VA want so badly to appoint and keep a fiduciary for Vicky Olson’s disabled veteran spouse? Was it retaliation that caused her removal as his appointed representative? Do the fiduciaries and field examiners enjoy bullying everyone who they deem incompetent or only the few dozen people I hear from?
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