February 2019 Edition. Volume XIX

“An officer must not lie, steal, or cheat–ever.”
– John McCain in Faith of My Fathers, Random House: New York, 1999

Previously the Burton Report has brought to the attention of its readers the issue of human experimentation involving surgery with unapproved medical devices being performed on hospitalized servicemen at the former Walter Reed Army Hospital by Army orthopedic surgeons who were, at the time, also being paid as industrial consultants and actively involved in medical device marketing.  As of this time none of the individuals involved in this activity have yet been held accountable for these moral and ethical violations by the U.S. Army which, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), has the full authority to address such breaches of accepted professional medical conduct.

Matthew Webb, M.D

Matthew Webb, M.D.

At the beginning of 2012 there was disclosure in the national press (i.e. CNN News January 12, 2012) that for years many physicians have been cheating in Medical Board examinations by making use of “recall” publications from previous examinations.  The Radiology Board examinations were used as a case in point where the same questions were often repeated year after year.  The circumstance of a Army radiologist in residency training at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio Texas was made public as a case in point.  In 2010 Capt. Matthew Webb refused to comply being ordered to use recalls because he considered such to be cheating. 7 days prior to completing his radiology training program, apparently for communicating with the press, Capt. Webb was terminated in the residency program and assigned to function as a general medical officer.  He was also advised that court martial charges were being considered against him for “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer“.

It was clear to Capt. Webb that these actions were in retribution for his following his conscience.  Given the circumstances he requested being released from the army. This request initially denied this request and Capt. Webb was advised that his complaints were determined to be “unfounded.”

Subsequent to the above events the Army represented that Capt. Webb’s actions were actually due to psychogenic problems on his part for which he was ordered to have a psychiatric evaluation which, not surprisingly, was unremarkable.  Records obtained by Burton Report contain a host of prior official Officer Evaluation Reports of which one of the most telling states: “CPT. Webb is a true leader and an exemplary Medical Corps Officer.”

The practice of forcing individuals to undergo psychiatric examinations and even committing them to mental wards as a means of retribution against those who challenge “the system” has not just been a characteristic of the former Soviet Union but continues to be alive and well in our own country as well.

We all owe a huge and continuing debt of gratitude to our military in that we still have the privilege of having not been forced to end up speaking German or Japanese (or other foreign languages) in the United States.  As a past military neurosurgeon I still continue to stand in awe of what our military is actually capable of achieving when the “chips are down” and need arises.

There is no excuse for disrespectful behavior or allowing such destructive transgressions to continue.  The House of Representatives Armed Services Committee first started holding hearings on psychiatric abuses in the military in 1987 and even though the Pentagon has been continually prodded to initiate more in the way of reform, it is clear to the Burton Report that more attention, and a greater sense of outrage,  is required.

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