Friday, July 31, 2009

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Sharp Sticks

UPDATE: DOT IG urged to investigate one of FAA’s top docs
By: Barbara Hollingsworth
Local Opinion Editor
07/17/09 12:05 AM EDT

For the past two and a half years, Dr. Michael A. Berry has been the manager of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Medical Specialties Division, Office of Aeronautical Medicine. According to an FAA spokesperson, Dr. Berry is in charge of medically certifying the fitness of all pilots and air traffic controllers in the United States. But some current and former airline employees say that Dr. Berry himself is not fit for the job.

A former Continental Airlines pilot who was medically grounded after complaining about safety problems in the cockpit told The Examiner that “the dreaded Dr. Berry,” as he is known among some pilots, falsified his medical records by telling the FAA he had “a neurological condition (seizure)” that ended his 17-year flying career.

“Dr. Berry found me ‘unfit for duty’ with no corroborating medical evidence, based upon a phone call to the pilot about whom I had complained... and then had the audacity to ask me for money to pay him to take care of it. He even wrote this in his notes...if I decided to work with him, he’d have to charge me for his time.”

The seizure diagnosis was refuted by the other pilot in a sworn affadavit dated Sept. 11, 2008: “I never told Dr. Berry that [the] First Officer...was unconscious or even had a disturbance of consciousness.”

In a written complaint to the FBI, the grounded pilot outlined what he called “The Berry System”:

* An airline pilot falls into disfavor with his employer, often for voicing safety concerns.
* The airline tells the pilot he will be fired if he doesn’t go see Dr. Berry.
* Dr. Berry reassures the pilot, saying he can’t do anything to get the pilot grounded.
* Dr. Berry informs the pilot that the exam results are all “perfectly normal” and asks why he’s there.
* The pilot complains about somebody and/or something at the airline.
* Dr. Berry falsifies a story based partly upon statements made about the pilot by fellow crewmembers.
* Ignoring any clinical evidence and opinions of other medical specialists, Dr. Berry finds the pilot “unfit for duty” and begins lobbying the FAA (paid for on an hourly basis by the airline) to begin the process of revoking the pilot’s medical certificate.
* Dr. Berry fraudulently alters the pilot’s past medical history.
* Dr. Berry refuses to send a copy of the fraudulent report to the pilot
* Dr. Berry calls the pilot and makes ambiguous statements about his report, then attempts to extort money from the pilot to “take care of it.”
* If the pilot rejects his “offer,” Dr. Berry sends his fraudulent reports to the FAA, deliberately excluding all data that is in the pilot’s favor (in violation of 18 U.S. Code Sec. 1001:3571).
* A friend of Dr. Berry’s at the FAA (Dr. Warren Silberman, DO) revokes the pilot’s FAA medical certificate via letter and immediately faxes a copy of the revocation letter to Dr. Berry.
* When the airline gets hit with a lawsuit, Dr. Berry sends them a copy of the FAA’s letter which, in reality, is nothing more than a product of his fraudulent scheme.
* The airline uses the FAA’s letter to effect the outcome of the lawsuit (and various other legal proceedings/investigations) in its favor.
* If the pilot complains to the State Board of Medical Examiners, Dr. Berry uses the FAA’s letter as “evidence” that he has done nothing wrong.
* The pilot becomes both unemployed and unemployable – without any hope of legal recourse.”

The Examiner has also obtained a copy of a letter from an anonymous employee at Continental Airlines that was sent to U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel III on July 7, confirming the former Continental pilot’s account, and also alleging that Dr. Berry paid kickbacks to a former Continental executive:

“I can confirm recent reports from the Washington Examiner (and a few years earlier, USA Today) where stories were written about Continental’s harassment of pilots who complain about safety and other issues.

“Continental is a great company, but has a certain rogue element left over from the days of [former Continental CEO] Frank Lorenzo. Deb Reynolds, our Employee Assistance Program manager, had an arrangement with an unscrupulous doctor named Mike Berry, and working together they would rid the airline of unwanted pilots. Deb actually received a commission from Berry, and usually screened pilots for financial status and sexual orientation before engaging in this program.

“Berry would harass the complaining pilots by sticking them with needles to draw blood and poking his finger up their anuses, with the message being clear: we can do whatever we want with you.

“If the pilot complained further, Berry would make up an ambiguous story and try to get the pilot to pay him not to send it to the FAA. If the pilot wouldn’t pay him, he’d send it to his friend at the FAA, who would revoke the pilot’s medical certificate.

“Berry made a lot of money doing this, and was financially protected by us using the same arrangement he had at other airlines. Berry became very conceited, and left a substantial paperwork trail. You need to investigate this.”

Former Delta pilot Wayne “Captain WOW” Witter was also grounded by Dr. Berry for alleged health and psychiatric problems in 1993. Witter, a Naval Academy graduate (class of ’61) who won two Distinguished Flying Crosses in Vietnam, says despite his outstanding military career and 36,000 hours of flight time, Delta targeted him for dismissal in the 90’s after he and other employees began exposing pension fraud that led to the airline being forced to pay $640 million in federal penalties.

Witter says an FAA employee in Oklahoma told him that Dr. Berry had gone out there two or three at company expense in an effort to get the FAA to pull Witter’s medical certificate. Witter says other pilots personally told him that Dr. Berry extorted them, asking “How much is it worth to you?” to keep information that could ground them out of their files.

Capt. Witter appealed his medical grounding to the National Transportation Safety Board, which ordered him reinstated at Delta, although he was not allowed to fly again.

“Berry is one of the most dishonest men I’ve ever met, who has ruined more lives, all for power and money,” the now retired Witter told me.. After Dr. Berry’s unethical tactics were exposed during his appeal, Witter added, Delta stopped using him as its medical specialist.

Now he’s in charge of every FAA specialist in the country.

Reader Comments
All comments on this page are subject to our Terms of Use and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Examiner or its staff. Comment box is limited to 200 words.

John P. Gilmer

Jul 27, 2009

I too fell into the Deb Reynolds-Dr. Mike Berry trap while a pilot at Continental Airlines. They made my life so miserable that I took early retirement at age 55. I would be happy to contribute my information to any investigation of these two.

Don't want to give name

Jul 29, 2009

I am not aware of any payoffs, but I know that the CAL EAP does influence doctors to arrive a clinical decisions that favors the EAP's plan of action for certain pilots. In short, CAL EAP forces a pilot into limbo, and that pilot will remain there, even if the pilot is healthy, until the CAL EAP feels that he, or she, is ready to return to work.
There are many pilots out there who have been wronged.

Dan Hanley

Jul 31, 2009

As a former United Airlines B-777 Captain who alleges that he was wrongfully terminated via the EAP route, although Dr. Berry was not involved in this process, I have in my possession substantial evidence of alleged illegal collusion that destroyed a 35 year career in aviation. The Department of Transportation Inspector General's office is supposedly investigating this matter. If anyone desires to contact me, please refer to, as I serve as public spokesperson for this association.

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