Friday, May 15, 2009

How "Rick Duncan" could happen, and how we'll stop it from happening again.

Please consider this post as a stopgap. It will be periodically updated as much as I can, though I do have some really important things to do Army-side this weekend so will be mostly incommunicado. Comment moderation is going to be turned off so that you can all talk to each other at will-please don't make me regret it by posting pictures of my family or anything like that.

First: the story.

"Rick Duncan" is the alias of Richard Strandlof, a con artist who had a record of defrauding groups and organizations for money. He apparently defrauded business owners in Nevada out of $25,000, and as con artists don't just pop out of nowhere, it's likely that he's defrauded others as well.

"Rick Duncan" was known as an IVAW member. I met him once briefly-I don't recall any substantive conversation, but the Colorado Veterans Alliance rang a bell and I went through a lot of business cards I had around from my IVAW work, and there was his. I cerainly believed at the time that he was an IVAW member. Was he actually an IVAW member? That's a question that's a little harder to answer. Upon discovering his fraud, I called the National Office. There was no record of him on our rolls or in our paper files. However, he apparently had a member account on the website, and he was well known as an IVAW member to many. While he had no leadership role in the organization, he was apparently involved with projects. It raises the question of: what makes a member? We don't have cards. We have membership rolls and T-shirts, and the latter are freely available for purchase. I know that I don't ask members I meet at events to show me their DD214s.

How could this happen? Well, I'll freely admit that in many ways it was our fault, and the fact that VoteVets, Colorado Veterans Alliance, and multiple Congressmen were also taken in doesn't make it any better. It appears that "Rick Duncan" had adopted one of the critical rules of a con artist: if you appear to be legitimate, and act like you belong, others won't question it. He created a veterans organization, and then used his status as the head of that veterans organization to gain access to other veterans' group events. I honestly don't know what the guys in Colorado thought about him, and that's not my story to tell-but I can understand that if the man walked in with a record of being involved with veterans and an IVAW T-shirt on, he would not have been questioned.

I'll be honest-our national office has not always been a model of efficiency, especially when it comes to paperwork. We also did not have the amount of staffers perhaps necessary to handle the influx of members last year. With so many new member applications coming through, new member processing was slow. Member packets were slow on being sent out. My speculation is that "Duncan" used his skills at a con to exploit that weakness-building on frustration with national office paperwork issues, he may well have complained that they had 'lost' his paperwork. He may have approached this at a sidways angle-using a respected IVAW organizer in Colorado to call the national office and get his access to the website. Is it right? No. Is it understandable? Unfortunately, I can understand why human error happens. That doesn't mean we don't need to work at closing that issue.

Some have charged, mainly in the milblogosphere, that we should have known that "Duncan" was a liar because of his claims. It's something that's really easy to say after the fact, but I'll examine them.
Some claim that we should have known he was a fraud because he claimed to have a finger shot off, yet has ten fingers. Well, that might have been a good indicator in the Korean War, but at least as recently as the early eighties, we had the technology to reattach fingers. How do I know this? Because that's when my own mother lost her finger and subsequently had it reattached. She was trying to fix up a rundown house, my parents were trying to give me a life outside the city. She let a saw run over her finger, and her and my father had to put it on ice and drive like maniacs to the hospital. It's one reason why my family after that moved to the city and never looked back-because they didn't want to have to wonder if there would be enough time to get to a hospital again. My mother can proudly wiggle all ten fingers today, almost thirty years later, though apparently that finger feels cold more. And she didn't even have the benefit of awesome military medical facilities.

Openly gay commander? Well, that's a really hard one to say. I don't want to name names or get hit by random people for potential slander, but I will say that at a certain time in my army career, we believed our commander was gay. There was major circumstantial evidence, and at least one individual confessed to being their partner in front of individuals from my unit. We thought that commander was an idiot, but it had nothing to do with the gay thing, but more to do with pure incompetence. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that "everyone could know" someone was gay, and like them anyway. One of my platoon sergeants didn't tell people he was gay, but he had a rainbow bumper sticker, a rainbow ring, and he had his farewell at a gay club. Nobody really cared.

A lot of people, both members and nonmembers, are asking why IVAW hasn't come out with a statement yet. The reasons for this are twofold. One is that Alex Bacon, the person who would need to authorize such a thing, is currently involved in a personal situation. I am not going to talk about this situation, as it is his private life. However, I would ask those of you who have stated that you do trust and respect me to accept that I am giving you my word of honor that I know the situation, and am staking my own honor on the fact that he has a legitimate personal circumstance. The second is that we're trying to ascertain all the facts before putting out a formal statement. In my own post, it's clear that I don't have some answers. IVAW's statement should have a full explanation of exactly how this happened, not speculation. And I personally believe it should also have a good explanation of how we'll stop it in future.

Some idea I personally have-and I encourage others and IVAW members to weigh in:
1) Produce memership cards that could be shown to other members, membership cards to be produced only by the national office, and numbers on membership cards being referenced whenever a request goes to the national office. (For example: I wouldn't say "It's Selena, I need this." I would say, "It's Selena, Member # 13538, I need this.")
2) Require proof of service at the chapter level as well, to provide a double failsafe.
3) Adopt a bylaw change that allows any member to challenge any other member's membership, much like the VFW has. Membership could be verifiable by the national records stuff, active duty members to be verified by other active duty members through tools like AKO, etc.

I'm curious as to other ideas folks have. Again, this post is rough and unpolished and will be edited as new information comes in or as I have more time to spend. I just felt it was important to get it up ASAP.

I also welcome all IVAW members to call me about this-my phone number is available in the members area of the website. Everyone else is welcome to email me personally at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Yes, I know, I haven't been posting for a while. There's been a LOT going on. No, I haven't yet finished my formal complaint letter for the Board, no, I am not planning on commenting on Ehren Watada's dismissal. This is going to be a pure ramble post.

In the positive news: it's finally been a full year since my memorial tattoo, so I'm back in blood-donation land. I gave blood the other week down at Landstuhl, and other than making the poor woman trying to figure out my medications nearly cry, it went off without a hitch. For the curious: apparently there's a lot of meds that don't interfere with blood donation, so you all have no excuse. Especially if you're in Germany-the blood goes straight to soldiers, and it's kind of needed-blood in Europe apparently doesn't meet FDA standards so we are the source for our brothers. Seriously, they're even faster at it than ever before. It's twenty minutes out of your day and free cookies. I know you soldiers like free stuff.

On the negative: no, my finances are STILL not fixed. Again, it doesn't seem to be the local unit's fault-they're doing all they can as far as I can see from here. Garrison, however, just may be where paperwork goes to die. I'm really hoping things go smoothly, but I'm kind of antsy-for those of you who have been following for a while, you know how important this is to me.

We had a change of command ceremony this week. Yeah, I know. Everybody's favorite, right? Well, this one wasn't too bad-it wasn't too complicated, so only required one half-day of practice, and mercifully everyone had short speeches. The only thing that killed me was the inclusion of the Serenity prayer. I have to say, in all seriousness, I hate the Serenity prayer. Isn't that the point of us as soldiers? The fact that we are going to do our best to change the things that need changing and do the things that need doing, whether or not they're labeled impossible? As long as you don't tell us we can't do something, there's a good chance we'll get it done? Forget that "wisdom to know the difference" stuff. You figh the fights that need to be fought. End, period. Whether or not you think you can win them. Silence is assent, and silence is cowardice.

I appreciate all the good wishes and sympathy that have been flowing this way, truly I do. You people are tops in my book. Champs, even. I owe you all beers.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

IVAW's Whistleblower Policy

For those curious as to what policy has been violated by my removal from the BoD:

The Whistleblower act states:

This Whistleblower Policy (the “Policy”) reflects the practices and principles of behavior that support this commitment. It is important that IVAW be apprised about unlawful or improper workplace behavior including, but not limited to, any of the following conduct:

violations of IVAW’s Conflict of Interest Policy;

A Whistleblower shall not be subject to retaliation. No punishment for reporting Concerns will be allowed, even if the claims are unsubstantiated; a reasonable belief or suspicion that unlawful or improper workplace behavior has occurred is enough to create a protected status for the Whistleblower.