How to Uncover a Military Conspiracy

Soon after I began reporting on the military, I uncovered something quite disturbing: that thousands of our wounded soldiers are being discharged from the military not for their injuries but for "personality disorder." By discharging them with this unusual condition, the military can deny wounded soldiers a wide range of disability benefits, saving the military billions of dollars.

How did I uncover this scandal — and what can you do to help stop these fraudulent discharges?

In November, I addressed these questions in a TED talk at TEDxVanderbiltUniversity.  


Disposable Soldiers

Part 3 in my series on Personality Disorder discharges follows the remarkable story of Sgt. Chuck Luther, who served in Iraq and won 22 honors before being wounded by mortar fire.  The explosion left Luther with severe vision and hearing loss.

Army doctors told Luther his blindness and deafness were caused by a personality disorder.  The sergeant was then tortured by Army officials: confined to a closet for over a month, under enforced sleep deprivation, until he agreed to sign fraudulent documents saying he suffered from a pre-existing personality disorder, thereby forfeiting all disability and medical benefits.

Luther's ordeal sparked outrage from Washington officials and the public and led to a large-scale effort, driven by readers, to halt PD discharges.  


Through the Cracks

Nine-year-old Joi Little and her mother, Selena, died in February 1988, victims of a brutal double murder.  For 21 years the case has gone unsolved, leaving the family wondering who and why.

A few weeks ago the NYPD's Cold Case unit announced a breakthrough in the case: the arrest of drug addict and drifter Robert Fleming.

The news was supposed to bring relief to the family.  Instead, it has rekindled their pain — pain exacerbated by the fact that Fleming is steadfastly proclaiming his innocence


What Happened to Sgt. Jimenez

Sgt. Juan Jimenez returned from Iraq with two Purple Hearts and a host of medical problems.  Jimenez had been struck by two roadside bombs. The brain damage from those blows left him with seizures and severe headaches.

But when the sergeant approached the V.A. for disability benefits, his claim was rejected.  Stunned and angry, Jimenez decided to fight back.  He joined with other wounded veterans and sued the government.  

The landmark case forced top Washington officials onto the witness stand to defend the V.A.'s treatment of ill and injured


Thanks for Nothing

This profile of Specialist Jon Town set off a firestorm when it was published April 2007. 

While serving in Ramadi, Iraq, Town was knocked unconscious by a 107-milimeter rocket.  Though the blast left him with significant hearing loss, he was denied disability benefits after the Army claimed his symptoms came from a pre-existing personality disorder.

The article spurred
31 senators to call for an investigation and led to Congressional hearings in July 2007. 


Taking His Case to Washington

In Part II of my personality disorder series, Specialist Jon Town heads to Washington, where he tells a Congressional committee how he won the Purple Heart and was then denied disability and medical benefits.

We hear from Senator Kit Bond, Congressman Bob Filner, rock icon Dave Matthews and others who have reached out to the wounded soldier.

The article also includes interviews with Army doctors who say wounded soldiers are routinely misdiagnosed. 


Removing Blasphemy from the Sales Pitch

It was fascinating to learn the role Utah plays in national advertising, as a kind of moral bottom line that major corporations would monitor and refuse to cross.

This article tells the story of two companies that did cross that line — one by accident, the other on purpose — and the disastrous consequences both faced as a result. 


Helping Them Stand

Olympic High is a run-down continuation school just east of San Francisco, and it was heart-wrenching to watch the kids try to make it amidst the poverty and drug addiction.  Stand, a respected non-profit organization, had been reaching out to Olympic's students, until they were forced to curtail their outreach program due to budget cuts.

This article follows one of Stand's last missions at Olympic High and looks at the difference they were making in the lives of the students. 


Wishbone's Law

The wild open space east of Berkeley, Calif., is dotted with beautiful, simple family memorials.  For years I'd wanted to write a story about them because I knew, behind each, there had to be a story.

Still, I was taken aback by how moving the Hoffmans' story was — how such a small memorial could both spark a lasting friendship and lead to a new, citywide ban on memorials. 


The Jewish Community of Southern Utah

Most people see Utah as Mormon territory.  And for the most part, it is. 

What I wanted, then, was to find the other communities hidden amidst the massive LDS temples, to speak with the Jewish residents whom many in Southern Utah didn't realize existed at all. 


Stem-Cell Research & Senator Hatch

This portrait of a Utah family suffering from Parkinson's disease and looking for help from stem-cell research struck a real chord with local readers, many of whom had Parkinson's in their family and had been debating themselves about the scientific and moral/religious implications of stem-cell research.

This article features my interview with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who had just made a bold - and, within Utah, quite controversial - stand in favor of the research. 


New York Governor's Race

Come along on the campaign trail with New York gubernatorial candidate Scott Jeffrey.  The Libertarian leader and I hit the streets of Manhattan.

I watched as Jeffrey, a kind but inept figure, bumbled his way towards an electoral conclusion that seemed all but preordained. 


Defense Begins in Trial of

Landlord Accused of Murder

It was a gruesome case: a little girl burned to death in a Brooklyn apartment building that had no fire escapes and no functioning sprinkler system.  Soon after, the landlord, Antonio Casanova, was charged with intentionally setting the blaze.

This is coverage from Casanova's murder trial.


War of Words

One of the delightful but little-known stories from World War II is that of the Navajo code talkers, who used their native language to baffle the Axis Powers.

In June 2004, Sam Billison - a retired Marine and former code talker - came to Lafayette, Calif., to talk about his war experiences and explain the origins and power of the Navajo code. 


Crusader on the Mike

The Mormon Church's admonition against drug and alcohol use may give Utah lower rates of addiction than other states.  But what it also gives, says Dan Murphy, is much higher rates of family and community denial.

Murphy, an alcoholic now 15 years sober, works to shatter that denial on "Last Call," his controversial talk show about addition issues on KDXU-AM. 


Halloween After 9/11

One of the small, strange effects of 9/11 and the anthrax scare was the impact they had on Halloween. 

In the face of real terror, no one in Utah was spending money to be spooked, a fact that struck costume shops owners like Richard Lamb particularly hard. 


Another Kind of Ground Zero

Because so many of its soldiers speak multiple languages, the Utah National Guard became central to the military's war in Afghanistan.   The Utah headquarters was even described in the New York Times as "another kind of ground zero."

I spent time with the captains and linguists from the local guard and talked with them about this unique crossover from Mormon missionary training to military duty. 


Lightfoot's Gospel

One of the finest people I covered in the Bay Area was Alison Lightfoot, a Walnut Creek schoolteacher who saw it as her mission to teach her fifth grade students values and fractions, spelling and self-respect.

This article takes a look at how she and other instructors from Indian Valley Elementary adjusted once the more restrictive structure of the No Child Left Behind program kicked in. 


Las Lomas Grad Makes His Mark

Awards are nice, but the greatest recognition always comes from home. In 2008, after my military reporting began making waves in Washington, I won the prestigious George Polk Award and was named a finalist for Harvard's Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.

Soon after reporter Theresa Harrington of Walnut Creek, California's Contra Costa Times wrote this piece about my work, essentially a "Local Boy Makes Good" article. Having grown up in Walnut Creek, attended Las Lomas High School and reported for the Times following graduate school, it was an especially meaningful tribute








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