A second accusation has come to light against a VA doctor accused of religious abuse last week. This accusation is political—but with an obvious religious subtext.
Phoenix VA Predator Doc Faces 2nd Accusation—How Many More?
Stephen Brittle is the second victim of Dr. Fred Cheron's abuse to come to public attention. Odds are he won't be the last.Credit: Military Religious Freedom Foundation
August 28, 2022

Last week, Crooks and Liars reported on the case of Navy vet Gary Rinsem, whose life-saving medical care was abruptly terminated when he challenged the religious abuse he suffered from his primary care physician, Dr. Fred Cheron. Thankfully, the VA responded swiftly by restoring his care when challenged by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), but the VA does not appear to have responded to everything MRFF asked for—specifically the “immediate and aggressive investigation” of Cheron.

We know that because another veteran abused by Dr. Cheron, Stephen Brittle, has stepped forward after reading our earlier story. He had already lodged a similar complaint against Cheron before Rinsem’s case reached a crisis point. He, too, raised the prospect of Dr. Cheron “brow-beating other patients, given how he acted,” in a letter to the VA dated July 23.

“This is not just troubling, this is horrific,” MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein told Crooks and Liars “As we said before… we wanted to see this particular physician, Dr. Fred Cheron, vigorously, aggressively, and publicly investigated and if the complaint from Gary Rinsem was confirmed we want to see this man terminated.” In addition, “We also stated he wanted to know how many other Gary Rinsems had been out there in the closet of Dr. Cheron, had he been oppressing and torturing in the past, how many currently now, to prevent how many we don't even know in the future.”

On July 19, Stephen Brittle, who has diabetes, had an encounter with Cheron that was so acrimonious that he wrote to the VA asking to be re-assigned to a different primary care physician. It wasn’t just abusive behavior, however. Cheron’s arrogance was such that it significantly interfered with his willingness and ability to provide care. The main difference between Brittle’s experience and Rinsem’s is that Cheron’s abusive behavior toward Brittle was political, rather than religious—at least on the surface. But given the intensity of conservative Christian support for Trump, the connection between the two manifestations is anything but surprising.

“I went to my appointment and he came in the door and immediately launched into Biden-this and inflation-that, and 'What's he going to do?" and I said, 'I don't really want to talk about that, I'm here to talk about my medical stuff,'" Brittle told Crooks and Liars.

They had discussed politics before, but in a more limited way, after his previous doctor retired at age 77 in 2020, due to fears of COVID. “We worked as a team,” Brittle said. “I'm a type II diabetic and he really got me on line to bring my A1C [blood sugar] down and I was doing very well, and lost some weight, and I'm used to that kind of treatment. And this guy, you get nothing.”

At first is was seemingly innocent. “When I first met Dr. Cheron, he asked what I do and I said 'Well, I do stuff with the environment and also I help run political campaigns.’ Well then, we would banter a little bit…. It's kind of like good-natured, but you know [I’d say] ‘I'm not here for that, and let's move on.’”

But this time was strikingly different. “He come in the door and immediately launches, and I'm like, 'I really don't want to talk about that, I want to talk about medical stuff.’ And we never really did. I have an unresolved health issues that, in retrospect, I don't thunk he every intended to give me any treatment for it." His problem was a pinched nerve, but “getting to the solution doesn't seem part of his agenda.”

“He continued trying to argue politics, but after I told him for the third time that I didn’t want to discuss these issues, he stopped,” Brittle said in his VA letter. “But it was obvious that he was unhappy about my stopping his talking about political issues from the look on his face.”

“I could sense real malice,” Brittle told Crooks and Liars

Instead, as detailed in his letter, Dr. Cheron asked about imaginary problems that Brittle had never raised—questions about numbness, coldness or lack of circulation in his feet, commonplace problems that long-term diabetic patients routinely communicate about when present, which in this case, they were not. In fact, Brittle had previous confirmation of his circulatory health from his podiatrist. But he still went to a followup appointment with a podiatrist, just to be sure, and was confirmed again.

There was one more problem—the need to replace custom-made insoles, which had worn thin. But it was complicated by the fact that Brittle wears different-sized shoes for each foot, and Dr. Cheron insisted on only ordering one size. There seemed to be nothing he would do without a fight. In fact, he then insisted on renewing prescriptions, unasked—including ones outside his specialty, and ones not in need of renewal, thus forcing Brittle to go through the hassle of canceling them.

Afterwards, “I went home and talked to my friends about it,” and “After a few days I decided I should write a letter of complaint. Someone needs to not let this guy do this,” Brittle said. "He's probably doing this to other people.” How right he was.

The VA’s Non-Response Responses

Encouraged by the swift response to Gary Rinsem’s complaint—once MRFF got involved—Crooks and Liars reached out to Michael Welsh, the VA’s interim director in Phoenix. After noting that swift response, and the promise to review Dr. Cheron’s interaction with Rinsem, we called to attention MRFF’s additional demand:

immediate and aggressive investigation of his now former Primary Care physician, Dr. Fred Cheron, regarding the serious allegations of religious proselytizing of our client…..and who knows how many OTHER VA patients Dr. Cheron may have similarly proselytized in the past, is now proselytizing or may proselytize in the future if not stopped NOW!!??;

In light of Brittle’s complaint—lodged almost one month earlier—the need for such a review couldn’t possibly be clearer. So we wanted to give him a chance to respond. Unfortunately, a non-response response was all that Welsh could muster:

The Phoenix VA Medical Center is committed to providing first-class care to the Veterans it has the privilege to serve without regard to the veteran’s religious or political beliefs or opinions.  While we can’t comment on specific personnel-related issues due to privacy considerations, our leadership takes seriously any allegations that providers are not living up to that commitment.

We pressed further, making clear we weren’t asking to violate anyone’s rights:

I understand privacy concerns & I'm not asking for any specific details. But MRFF has asked for a systemic investigation, and I'm just trying to establish if anything like that has begun, if it's even contemplated, and/or is there a mechanism or precedent for it? Because if there's two cases discovered so far, it seems highly likely there's more and thus there will be more stories in the future as well.

But the non-response response was simply repeated.

The problem with Dr. Cheron shouldn’t be seen in isolation. VA healthcare is a matter of life and death for many veterans, including an appalling 20 veterans a day who commit suicide, as Weinstein pointed out. Receiving abuse instead of care is surely a contributing factor, and with Trump-aligned religious abusers like Dr. Cheron at the VA, who knows how many veterans are being put at additional risk? And how much worse it is likely to get as Trump’s own criminality increasingly comes to light?

"We complained directly to the Chief of Staff Tanya Bradsher to Biden's VA Sec. Denis McDonough last week, and our lawyers looking very very carefully at this one too, I can guarantee you that. This is an outrage,” Weinstein said.

The question isn’t just how many others Dr. Cheron has abused. It’s how many other Dr. Cherons are out there.

As Gary Rinsem said, it’s time for a Me Too movement to call out religious abusers. The military and the VA clearly aren’t about to do anything on their own.

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