Today, I saw Dossier was available and immediately downloaded it. I want to know if Michael Volpe found anything that matches my perceptions of whistleblowers. Volpe is an investigative journalist. In Dossier, he explores links between PTSD and famous historical whistleblowers, like Frank Serpico. Perceptions about whistleblowers and mental health are a problem because lawyers have arcane notions about people with mental health issues, and those notions sometimes wrongfully prejudice government prosecutors against solid qui tam claims. Maybe Dossier will be a positive resource.
One in five people experience some type of serious mental illness at some point in life. Whistleblowers, like anyone else, are susceptible to, or actually experience, emotional issues and mental health problems. Whistleblowing creates additional stress for people, and qui tam relators have all the typical burdens of life, plus those created by the act of whistleblowing, plus those generated by the qui tam process itself. Bringing a qui tam action takes extraordinary patience, skill, and drive. Many qui tam claimants I come across have the drive, but no patience. In addition, they have skills in a certain area, but the skill set needed to bring a qui tam claim to successful resolution is broad based. Many would- be qui tam claimants like to shake things up, and some are confrontational. Many, many whistleblowers need the instant and persistent validation of having colleagues, friends, and family tell them that the fraudster is a bad operator, the whistleblower is right, and on and on. Unfortunately, qui tam relators don’t have the ordinary opportunities for emotional support that other litigants have; the qui tam complaint remains under federal court seal, usually for years, and the relator is not allowed to talk to anyone about it, except for qui tam counsel. For the most part, the qui tam whistleblower suffers alone.
It’s a recipe for disaster.
I am wondering how Michael Volpe will deal with the issue of whistleblowers and mental health disorders in Dossier and how his personal prejudices about PTSD will impact the book. I wonder about Volpe’s grasp of either subject – whistleblowers or PTSD. I assume Dossier is an anecdotal survey and wonder if anyone has performed a properly designed study about the prevalence of PTSD in whistleblowers. I would love to know, but in terms of priorities, researching this subject takes a back seat to the thousands of other subjects I have to research. Even so, it’s a topic I mull over fairly regularly.
I believe it’s likely that PTSD is more prevalent in qui tam relators than in the general population. I believe whistleblowing can trigger PTSD. Qui tam whistleblowers may have suffered some trauma, and the revelation of fraud may trigger recollections of earlier life-threatening experiences. For the whistleblower, the discovery of fraud may cause a whistleblower to feel as if his life is being threatened, and depending on the nature of the fraud, an objective person may say those perceptions are appropriate or inappropriate for the siltuation. Whistleblowers and whistleblower counsel need to know that whatever the current circumstances may be, those feelings of danger are very real and detrimental to the whistleblower. When I see what seems to be PTSD in a whistleblower, I recommend a comprehensive mental health assessment. These kind of recommendations can be difficult.
I know my colleagues will often resist making such suggestions to clients and that even a whisper of a mental health issue can prejudice a prosecutor against a qui tam relator, no matter what the mental health issue might be. PTSD, depression, anxiety – those issues have nothing to do with the merits of a claim. I could imagine bipolar disorder having a small impact on the way a claim is managed; I can imagine Borderline Personality Disorder having some impact, maybe. A relator with Obsessive Complusive Disorder could be an awesome asset in a case. Think about someone like the television character Monk for an example. Sure, he needs some accommodation for the OCD but what a smart and talented fellow! Monk would be a terrific qui tam relator.
In any event, I am just an attorney who happens to have a background in human services working with people with disabilities. Attorneys can help qui tam relators with their qui tam cases, but for mental health assessment and emotional support, qui tam relators need to seek professional and qualified mental health practitioners, and they can’t expect their attorneys to fill this need. All attorneys, including government prosecutors could/should improve their understanding of the diverse nature of mental health issues to, at minimum, reduce the chances of a good qui tam claim being tainted by prejudice. It’s kind of ridiculous that whistleblowers still face such stigma. The legal profession needs to become a little more tolerant of differences in general.
The intolerance of the legal profession is a whole other subject, but for PTSD and whistleblowers, Volpe’s Dossier is one of the few mainstream discussions available right now. If anyone wants to check it out, look for The Definitive Dossier on PTSD in Whistleblowers by Michael Volpe, published by Amazon Digital Services, Inc. You can be find it at Amazon.com.