Official On VA National Ethics Board Has Questionable PhD Degree And Questionable Ethics

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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A medical doctor working at the New Mexico VA, who also sits on the VA’s national ethics committee, was reprimanded for having an inappropriate relationship with a student at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and also has a questionable educational background, according to documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The chair of the department of psychiatry at UNMH reprimanded Dr. Cynthia Geppert for having an inappropriate relationship with a student, according to these documents. The department placed a note in Geppert’s personnel file stating that both the School of Medicine and Department of Psychiatry condemned the relationship.

Additionally, senior faculty said they were concerned about how the relationship would affect Geppert’s teaching. Samuel J. Keith, chairman, asked Geppert if she wanted to address faculty worries.

“As you are aware, Karen has decided not to pursue a residency in psychiatry at UNM, so I assume we no longer need to meet to discuss,” Geppert said in response.

Geppert’s indiscretion is notable for a couple of reasons.

First, Geppert is an ethics professor and director of ethics education at UNM. Second, Geppert is a psychiatrist at the New Mexico VA, and beginning in 2004 has also worked as chief of consultation-liaison psychiatry and chief of ethics consultation. Following the launch of a program called IntegratedEthics in 2007, she worked as a program officer and ethics consultation coordinator.

She still serves as ethics consultation coordinator for VISN 18.

She has served twice at the VA’s National Center for Ethics in Health Care (NCEHC) as an ethics consultant, once in 2010 and another time in 2013. As of 2014, she was still serving as acting health care ethicist for the committee.

In other words, Geppert is deeply involved in ethics leadership. The NCEHC even gave Geppert an award for excellence in health care ethics in March 2015, calling her a “champion of ethics.”

In the announcement, the center referred to Geppert as holding a PhD, which is also listed on her VA bio page. Aside from running afoul of ethics at UNM, Geppert’s educational background is questionable.

Geppert obtained a doctor of philosophy in medical ethics from the International Reform University. This university, formerly available at the domain, no longer exists.

IRU was supposedly accredited by the Central Orthodox Synod, which the book “Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas,” lists as an unrecognized accreditation organization. A letter in 2004 from Father Christian River Damian Sims, who claims the credentials M.Div and D.S.T, confirmed that he served as dissertation advisor to Geppert. The D.S.T apparently stands for doctor of sacred theology. It is unclear at which institution Sims obtained the degree.

Sims is a former Methodist minister, who used to work as a male prostitute. He now runs Temenos Catholic Worker, a “not-for-profit ministry.” His bio does not list a D.S.T.

River said in the letter that “the IRU has suspended its programs due to financial difficulties.”

Although not listed in the document obtained by TheDCNF, Geppert’s PhD was reportedly obtained through a one-year online course.

UNM stated in a response to TheDCNF that “Dr. Geppert was credentialed and re-credentialed for her clinical responsibilities through UNM Hospital’s normal and customary processes, which include primary source verification of degrees.”

John Arnold, director of news and multimedia services at the UNMH Sciences Center, added, “Due to New Mexico law, as well as university policy and privacy guidelines, we do not comment on personnel matters.”

But the Department of Veterans Affairs told TheDCNF that it “takes the safety and well-being of the Veterans we serve very seriously.”

“This includes ensuring that our providers are properly credentialed,” the VA added. “We are reviewing this matter to determine what action, if any, needs to be taken.”

Sonja Brown, chief of public affairs operations at the New Mexico VA, told TheDCNF that the facility does not “comment on personnel matters.”

FOIA data listed in the document shows that Geppert received a $40,000 raise between 2012 and 2013, moving her annual salary from $172,000 to $212,000.

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