BECAUSE VETS DESERVE GOOD CARE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut For six years John Berter of Cincinnati, Ohio, enjoyed his job as a federal police officer at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Cincinnati. Then a new police chief took over. To Berter’s astonishment, the new Chief began teaching his officers how to cause pain without leaving telltale marks. The Chief told them that a police officer was “a bad guy wearing a good guy hat.” And he warned them that he knew plenty of ways to frame anybody who got out of line. Berter says he and his fellow officers were dumbfounded when the Chief intimidated and abused patients at the 25-building hospital complex, most often African-American patients. Berter witnessed five unprovoked attacks by the Chief. Most of the victims required medical care afterwards; one of his regular tactics was to stand on a man’s testicles. John Berter kept doing his own job the way he felt it should be done, while the knowledge of the Chief’s brutality ate at him. How could he allow the head of the police force to threaten and injure patients? Berter told us, “They were sick, they were powerless, and there was no one there to speak for them… I thought it was very important that this stuff be stopped. It was my…responsibility to protect them. My dad’s a veteran; I’m a veteran; I have friends who are veterans. I would hate to see those people faced with Chief Wilson.” Eight months into Wilson’s tenure, Berter and three other officers sent a hundred anonymous letters to the FBI, elected officials, government agencies, veterans’ groups and the press. The FBI’s response was to tell the Chief that his officers were claiming he beat people up. Wilson found out who his accusers were and began a campaign of reprisals. Berter, who had an excellent record, suddenly began getting reprimands. The Chief increased his workload 400% and forced him to take extra training courses. He even placed Berter on 90-day notice because of grammar and spelling errors in his daily reports. When the Chief began making veiled threats against Berter’s family, the pressure literally made Berter ill. His doctors placed him on sick leave for acute stress. Berter contacted the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency set up to protect whistleblowers from reprisals. The OSC didn’t contact any of the Chief’s victims, nor in any other way check out Berter’s charges. They interviewed only VA officials and, Berter reports, worked hand in hand with the VA to discredit him. After this experience Berter told a reporter, “As far as I’m concerned, the OSC’s job is nothing more than protecting government agencies.” Fortunately he had also contacted the Government Accountability Project, a private group that helps whistleblowers. (According to GAP, the OSC had been turning away 99% of the whistleblowers seeking help.) GAP collected statements from 19 of Wilson’s victims, 14 of them black Vietnam vets. GAP also discovered that allegations of brutality had been made against Wilson at two other VA hospitals. The FBI finally investigated, finishing with a 1,420-page report and what the agent in charge called a good, prosecutable case. But the Justice Department declined to bring charges against Chief Wilson. GAP found internal memos showing that the head of the VA had appealed to his friend the Attorney General, who saw that the case was dropped. By then, the charges had received wide press coverage and Wilson was demoted and transferred. But the four whistleblowers, including John Berter, were fired. According to a GAP attorney, Berter’s testimony before a Congressional committee shocked Congress into passing new legislation to protect whistleblowers. More than a year after Berter was fired, an OSC attorney indirectly vindicated him when she recommended that problems in the VA security force, specifically in Cincinnati, be corrected. Her report charged that Wilson had lied to or misled OSC investigators, but she failed to credit Berter and his fellow officers for reporting the abuses and ignored the reprisals against them. Instead, her report included a 14-page indictment of John Berter. Upon reading it, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, chair of the Civil Service Committee, wrote to the counsel, “your refusal to acknowledge Mr. Berter’s assistance in this matter is wrong, but your personal attack on him is unconscionable…Congress did not establish the Office of Special Counsel as a means to turn on the messenger.” Chief Wilson resigned after the release of the special counsel’s report; charges were finally brought against him for perjury and obstruction of justice. The experience cost John Berter a lot. His career and his health were ruined. A proud husband and father, he had to accept welfare until he recovered enough to start his life over. He later became a staff counselor at a half-way house, helping prison inmates on work-release prepare for freedom. He’s making a living again, though far less than he earned with the VA. And he’s found that he prefers this area of criminal justice. As he told us, “I don’t think I ever want to put a badge on again.” We asked him what he would say to someone who’s thinking of reporting an injustice. “Go with your heart,” he urged. “Go with what your gut tells you to do. Go with your conscience. But be prepared to pay the consequences.” Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. They need to know there are real heroes in the world.