December 16, 1997
Before Togo West Wiggles Into The VA
Secretary of the Army Togo West needs to clean up a pile of dirty laundry before he is allowed to take over Veterans Affairs.
I'm not just talking about the recent allegations of his selling Arlington Cemetery burial plots to very rich card-carrying Democrats. But what West knows about Army officers who ambushed Lt. Col. John Pitchford.
This past August, I reported in this space that Pitchford's career ended when he blew the whistle on a boss with sticky fingers.
Now the Army Inspector General has concluded:
* An Army officer lied to Congressman Jim Kolbe to prevent him from helping Pitchford.
* Senior Army officers violated Army regulations for the specific purpose of zapping Pitchford for blowing the whistle.
In March of 1995, Pitchford requested that both his promotion to the rank of colonel and pending retirement be put on "hold" until his charges of senior leader misconduct were investigated. Pitchford was informed that this was not possible and that he either would have to take his promotion or retire.
When Pitchford said "I'll take my eagles," the Army fiddled the regulations to prevent him from being promoted.
With only days left before his mandatory retirement date, Pitchford contacted West's office to inform him that Army regulations had been dismembered and he was being given the boot. West ignored his cry for help.
Then Maj. Lawrence D. Grubb lied to Congressman Kolbe, saying the regulations didn't apply to Pitchford. With Kolbe neatly out of the way, Brig. Gen.Frederick Wong called Maj. Gen. Charles Thomas, the CG at Fort Huachuca and requested an investigation of Pitchford. Suddenly, the Arizona sky rained down a long list of fabricated criminal charges on whistle-blower Pitchford.
Pitchford did the only smart thing a soldier could do: He beat feet in retreat and retired without his well deserved eagles, but with his hide still attached.
The IG report says the charges against Pitchford were "a file of meritless incidents" that his commander hoped to use in "a cumulative fashion" and "unfortunately he was allowed to succeed."
Of the letter of reprimand issued to Pitchford, engineered by the conspirators, the Army's own IG report states this "is one more instance of a vendetta on the part of the officials involved."
Months after the Army IG substantiated the charges that his career was wrongfully terminated, Pitchford received a copy of this report. Once again he contacted West's office, requesting an investigation to determine the identity of the individuals who broke the law.
Two weeks ago, an Army IG, Col. Juan Crayton informed Pitchford "The very general, non-specific nature of these allegations (made by Pitchford) will not permit us to investigate beyond what has already been addressed in the previous investigation. If you submit specific allegations with accompanying evidence, and against specific individuals, we will consider your issues for possible further investigation."
This is pure Pentagon doublespeak. What better evidence could Pitchford provide than the Army's own damning IG report?
Because of the Army's refusal to act on the information provided by its own IG, Pitchford is caught in a Catch 22 trap. Fighting for justice, he has now requested a congressional hearing to identify the rats who ended his career.
No government agency should violate the constitutional rights of an American citizen. The acts that ended Pitchford's career were outrageous, but even more outrageous was West's refusal to properly investigate what can only be called a conspiracy.
West, a lawyer, should know this. He should have provided Pitchford and the American people with the names of the officers who thumbed their noses at the Constitution, a document each of them has sworn to uphold.
If an officer with Pitchford's rank, experience and contacts can be so ill treated by the system, just imagine the injustices and abuses that daily bombard scores of lower ranking individuals without clout.
Besides the Senate Confirmation Committee checking out the burial disgrace, it should look into the torpedoing of Pitchford before West is allowed to become the Veterans Affairs main man
After all, West is answerable to the people of America and not a law unto himself. Oh, by the way, Pitchford's story has a happy ending: A chastened Army has just notified him that he can wear his eagles.