One of the most common symptoms associated with combat related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is paranoia, the delusional fear that someone is out to get you. Recent revelations within the nation’s veteran community seem to imply these fears are not all that imaginary.
by Jere Beery, Operation Firing For Effect
The Veterans Administration was originally established as a ‘non-adversarial’ agency, and our veterans have always considered the VA as a ‘sanctuary’. Those two words are at the root of this entire article. The VA was a place where a vet down on his luck could get a cup of coffee and a hot meal, or the place a sick vet could count on being treated and cared for without fear of ridicule or unwarranted scrutiny. The vet always knew he/she could find unconditional ‘compassion’, ‘understanding’, and ‘prayer’ within the walls of a VA facility. Any vet could walk through the doors of a VA and know they were safe and not in danger. Well, the VA has apparently changed their ideology and method of operation.
There is currently a group of self-appointed “government agents” targeting veterans receiving disability compensation from the VA. Their objective is to locate and prosecute disabled veterans that are receiving VA disability compensation that they are not entitled to. Their main focus is on veterans with a PTSD rating…
They claim that the VA healthcare system is being bilked dry by phony PTSD claims. However, they cannot provide data to support their outrageous accusations. They operate with the full support and cooperation of the VA Inspector General’s office and other major law enforcement agencies. According to Chuck and Mary Schantag of Skidmore, Missouri and owners of the POW Network (www.pownetwork.org), they have friends within the VA and DOD that will provide them with any personal information on a veteran they are investigating. In a recent email forwarded to my office, Mary Schantag wrote; “YES we continue to turn phonies and frauds and goldiggers into the VA IG and the FBI and law enforcement on a daily basis with a great team and huge support”. (Editor’s Note: All misspelling, capitalization, and sentence structure are the results of a direct quote via email.) In another email, POW Network associate and group member Mr. Gary Assell of Montgomery, Illinois and owner of Viper’s Web Page made this statement to justify their operations; “All disabled veterans are NOT the targets, only those who have obtained benefits through fraud and misrepresentation, which is punishable under Title 38 USC. It is a proven fact that veterans who have fraudulently received benefits or medical care through fraud or misrepresentation HAVE cost the VA millions of dollars”.
This is not the first time we have heard of the POW Network and their questionable operations. Exactly one year ago, this same group harassed Mr. Gene Simes and myself and even boasted of acquiring our Social Security numbers without our consent. In an email exchange the Schantags made this statement; “We cannot afford to have some "friends" compromised as they search through files for the truth on this. And we meet with the VA IG Friday……” Mr. Simes and I filed a complaint with the VA Inspector General’s office and a formal investigation was launched. The investigation concluded the Schantags committed no crime, the case was dropped, and they continue their questionable relationship as informants with the VA IG today. The most notable and curious fact about our first encounter with the POW Network was Mr. Simes and I called our complaint into the VA Inspector Generals Office on May 1, 2006. On May 3, 2006 the Department of Veterans Affairs “announced they had lost a computer containing personal information on 26.5 million veterans (including Social Security numbers)…”
Another Key associate of the POW Network group is a former Navy SEAL with 27 years in the service. Captain Larry Bailey of Chocowinity, North Carolina is probably best known for his association with the book; ‘Stolen Valor’, which was about veterans claiming military service or awards they were not entitled to. The Stolen Valor book spawned a rash of individuals subscribing to the theory that many of our veterans were frauds and the budget short-falls the VA was experiencing was due to phony veterans within the VA system. In a recent email sent to my office by Larry Bailey, he stated; “far too many veterans and phonies are bilking the VA out of hundreds of millions of dollars, and Congress will not allow the VA to do the investigation that is necessary to stop the fraud. Unless and until the fraudulent VA claimants are ferreted out and dealt with, I will not lend ANY support to any effort to give that corrupt agency another nickel. I am surprised that you would advocate pumping billions more down that bureaucratic rat hole.” In another email Bailey said; “Thank God that I don't have to depend on VA for assistance I really need, and I don't rip them off for false PTSD like a LOT of people do. And I have two good friends who are doing just that, saying that "I might as well get mine," or words to that effect. One of them even encourages me to get some myself. It makes me sick. That is what I was trying to explain to Jere Beery; he clearly didn't want to hear that.” This author wonders if Mr. Bailey has exposed these two “close friends” as frauds on the POW Network website, or has he remained silent while these individuals continue to supposedly defraud the VA. A third possibility is that Mr. Bailey is exaggerating these claims in order to support his own position. Only Mr. Bailey can be entirely certain as to the truth in this matter.
These statements combined with the many complaints I receive from veterans stating they had been wrongly harassed, intimidated and publicly humiliated by the POW Network, paints a very ugly picture. Many veterans think the Schantags are using the sacred ‘Prisoner of War Movement’ to hide more sinister activities. Although the POW Network was originally established to address issues concerning the accounting of Prisoners of War and Missing in action, their objectives now have taken a very vile turn. They now apparently think they are a law enforcement arm for the entire veteran community. There is a VERY big difference between a person that illegally claims military awards they are not entitled to, and a sick veteran suffering from a medical condition (such as PTSD) which has suicidal tenancies associated with it. In this writer’s opinion, after many years of involvement in veteran’s affairs, it is not in the best interest of our disabled veterans to cast unwarranted blame on them, or to question any medical condition they may have which is recognized and diagnosed by the VA. Especially when sensitive emotional and mental issues are involved. The veteran community does not need this ridicule, scrutiny, or intimidation by any one, much less a self-appointed group of informants.
It is unknown if the Schantags or anyone else in the group receives anything in return from the VA for the veterans they turn in. However, they do receive donations and endorsements from private sources and a number of veteran service organizations. They have also reaped the rewards of their notoriety in connection with Stolen Valor. Unfortunately, their exploits now are causing mistrust within the veteran community and unnecessary pain and grief to veterans and their families.
Over the next few weeks ‘Operation Firing For Effect’ will be asking the hard questions of the VA, FBI, and several veteran service organizations. We want to know if they can verify that there is in fact a large number of frauds enrolled in the VA healthcare system, and if they condone, or participate in the ‘predatory’ tactics used by the POW Network. To date, we have spoken with 3 national veteran service organizations headquartered in Washington, DC; the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Blinded Veterans Association, and the American Legion. All three stated they do not scrutinize the disability ratings of their membership, and they have no data to support the VA has experienced a high percentage of bogus disability claims.
If it is true that the VA has become so corrupt and inept that they are incapable of administering the rules and regulations governing the distribution of disability compensation, and that this has resulted in hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans receiving compensation that they are not entitled to, the American public has the right to know this as soon as humanly possible.
There are currently an estimated 12 to 15 million illegal aliens in this country taking advantage of our system and its benefits. One might think if the POW Network were truly concerned about exposing fraud on a large scale, they would devote their efforts towards a real threat to our country. The Schantags claim “They Support Our Troops’ on one hand, and then turn around and suggest a large number of them are frauds? The support we give our men and women in uniform must be unconditional. The disabled veterans that fall under the control of the VA are National Treasures and should be protected the same as ‘hallowed ground’. Remember the word ‘sanctuary’? If the VA is involved in ANY way in the current campaign to ‘shake down’ the disabled veterans of this country, they have totally lost sight of their mission and should be held accountable by the American people. If the VA is encouraging civilian ‘bounty hunters’ to find veterans that may not deserve all they are receiving, they are no longer ‘non-adversarial’, they are ‘predators’. This violation of our veteran’s trust would not look good on a recruiting poster.
Ask yourself these questions; Have we become so callus and bitter as a Nation that we feel the need to look for ways to discredit our veterans? What training or certification does the POW Network have that allows them to involve themselves in the ‘personal’ medical issues of a veteran? With the current URGENT needs of our most recent disabled veterans returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq is this ‘witch hunt mentality’ really helping the situation, or hurting? Does it really matter to the majority of Americans if a few boarder-line PTSD cases filed by ‘Verified Former Military Personnel’ fall through the cracks? Is it really worth the risk of targeting the wrong veteran with false accusations and triggering a tragedy? And finally, what does any of this have to do with accounting for our Prisoners of War or Missing in Action?
It is not the intent of this article to imply fraud is acceptable under any circumstances. And this article is not intended to protect the fraudulent from exposure and/or prosecution. However, PTSD is a very sensitive medical condition that is better left to the medical professionals to diagnose and treat, not the POW Network. There is very little doubt in my mind that the number of fraud cases within the Social Security Administration, Medicare, and Food Stamp program far exceed any possible number of cases within the VA.
If this article has upset you and you feel compelled to stop this unwarranted attack on our disabled veterans, contact your local media and ask them to investigate this story. Remember; if you do nothing, you can expect nothing to change. If you love your freedom, thank a vet!