The Great Pretender

Mar 28, 2013 - by Michael Volpe - 0 Comments

Dr. Donald C. Arthur

Dr. Donald C. Arthur parlayed a number of bogus academic degrees into an extremely successful career in the U.S. Navy, rising all the way to surgeon general of the Navy. He even had the nerve to wear a combat action ribbon as part of his official uniform at his retirement in 2007 despite never having been involved in combat.

by Michael Volpe

The book Stolen Valor was released with some fanfare in 1998.  It detailed a bevy of individuals who falsely claimed combat action, especially during the Vietnam War. Since then, the Stolen Valor team, led by B. G. Burkett, has gained a reputation for exposing hucksters who falsely claim to have been in combat. Those individuals include Brian Leonard Creekmur, who falsely claimed to be a Navy Seal and sniper. Another individual exposed by the Stolen Valor team was Bill Hillar. Hillar falsely claimed to be a Green Beret and wound up being sentenced to 21 months in prison as a result.

In 2005, the Stolen Valor team began investigating Dr. Donald C. Arthur, then the surgeon general of the U.S. Navy. That’s because Dr. Arthur was seen wearing a combat action ribbon as part of his official uniform at his retirement in 2007 even though there was no record he’d seen combat.

The official record of the U.S. Marine Corp lists no combat experience for Dr. Arthur, and this combat experience was not listed in his official naval transcripts submitted to the House Armed Services Committee, when he submitted his transcripts to qualify for retirement pension pay.

In November 2005, B.G. Burkett asked Navy Admiral Mike Mullen to investigate Dr. Arthur regarding a host of degrees he’d claimed to have earned. Dr. Arthur claimed he had a law degree, a medical degree, and even a Master of Arts Degree. The whole thing seemed suspicious and Burkett urged Mullen to look more closely. When Admiral Mullen’s investigation didn’t seem to bear fruit, Burkett took his concerns to investigative reporter Russell Working of the Chicago Tribune.

Working had made a name for himself investigating so called diploma mills. Diploma mills are universities that either give out wholly bogus degrees for money or require only that the individual take a very light load, not worthy of a degree.

A number of people in the military were being caught using some of these diploma mills to pad their own resumes. On October 1, 2008, the Chicago Tribune published Working’s expose showing that two of the degrees Dr. Arthur claimed to have gotten over a 14-month period in 1992 and 1993 were frauds.

One degree was a Juris Doctorate, or law degree, from LaSalle University in Louisiana. This school was one of a number run by James Kirk, who operated a number of these diploma mills during the 1980s and 1990s.

The other was Ph.D. from American Century University. This university was also found to be a diploma mill.

In an interview with Working, Dr. Arthur said that the degrees were put on his official resume in error but said the errors were innocent.

“In interviews, Arthur acknowledged that in the early 1990s he took ‘some courses from two places that are unaccredited.’ He said LaSalle had given him papers indicating the school had been accredited. ‘I could say I was naive, but I was 40 years old. And I didn't understand completely what was going on.’

“As for the master's, which first appeared in his bio for his 1978 medical school yearbook, Arthur said, ‘I was in a master's program, but I did not graduate. I do not have a master's degree.’”

Arthur made it clear to Working that his career was not advanced as a result of these degrees.

"The only thing I was hired to be surgeon general for was my MD," he said.

Working’s expose led to a follow-up investigation by Josh Goldstein of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Goldstein found that a previous Master’s Degree in genetics was also in Dr. Arthur’s resume fraudulently. This one was from Northeastern University in Boston, a fully accredited university. In this case however, Northeastern showed no records of Dr. Arthur attending when Goldstein contacted them.

Dr. Arthur sat down for a 75-minute interview with Goldstein in conjunction with his piece. Dr. Arthur declined to address his purported combat action and instead said, "I'm an honorable person who has led an honorable life.”

Dr. Arthur was also defended during his interview by Anthony Coletta, president at Mainline Health where Arthur worked at the time of the interview.

“Anthony V. Coletta, Bryn Mawr's medical-staff president, said he was surprised to learn of the questions about Arthur's degrees. Coletta said Arthur has had a positive impact on patient care and had addressed ‘sometimes difficult situations with doctors’ over his 14-month tenure.”

Arthur also defended the two degrees he earned from non-accredited schools.

“Arthur said that he did extensive course work to earn both the law degree and the Ph.D. and at the time believed the schools had ‘appropriate accreditation.’”

Arthur ended his interview with Goldstein by suggesting questions about his past were being made by people attempted to stir the proverbial pot.

Arthur said the controversy was behind him.

“‘The pot-stirrers want to keep bringing things up – calling my friends, calling my family, calling everybody I am acquainted with and making all manner of accusations," he said. "Quite frankly, I'm done.’”

It should be noted that Burkett asked Mullen to first investigate Dr. Arthur in 2005. Dr. Arthur retired from the Navy in 2007.  Both the Tribune and Inquirer investigations concluded after Arthur retired. That’s important because here’s what Mike Mullen said at Dr. Arthur’s retirement in 2007.

“(He’s a) sort of a renaissance man. His résumé says a lot. BA, MA, JD, PhD, and of course, MD – he’s got more degrees than a thermometer.”

More False Claims – Operation Desert Storm

Beyond those investigations, other public records show Dr. Arthur has made several other dubious claims that couldn’t be verified. For instance, he claimed that in 1991 – while deployed to Saudi Arabia to support Operation Desert Storm –he was involved in direct combat, even though he was supposed to be part of a medical unit. Arthur began wearing a Combat Action Ribbon sometime after the first Iraq War, though there are no official records that he was ever actually awarded this ribbon by the Navy.

A near six-month investigation of Dr.Arthur by Crime Magazine found that Dr. Arthur was lying, cheating, and defrauding almost the entire time he was in the military. Crime Magazine obtained evidence that shows that not only was Arthur never in combat but he wasn’t even attending to his own duties while he was stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Frederick M. “Skip” Burkle is a doctor and a physician. He is currently a senior fellow and scientist at Harvard University. He’s a Vietnam War Navy veteran, and in 1991 he was a Navy reservist, called up to serve in Operation Desert Shield.

Dr. Burkle was assigned to head up the medical base in Saudi Arabia in February, 1991. This base would house all those soldiers who were injured during the ground invasion. Because of the perceived threat of chemical and biological weapons being used by the Iraqi military, Dr. Burkle was told to prepare for significant casualties. What no one knew at the time was that the ground invasion would only last 100 hours and there was no real Iraqi resistance.

Dr. Burkle said he ran into Dr. Arthur on his first night of his assignment. In that exchange, Dr. Burkle remembers that Dr. Arthur made a comment that he (Dr. Arthur) should have been named the senior medical officer, not Dr. Burkle. Despite being of lesser rank than Dr. Burkle, Dr. Arthur claimed that his doctorate and law degrees made him more qualified. Dr. Burkle said he responded by stating that assignments were posted and that he expected Arthur to be in the emergency department the next morning. That would be the last time Dr. Burkle would see Dr. Arthur.

In fact, Dr. Burkle said that to his knowledge no one on the emergency medical team ever saw Arthur perform any medical related functions the entire time they were at the trauma center. Ironically enough, Dr. Burkle said that with all the responsibilities he had and how smoothly and responsible the other medical, nursing and corpsmen staff were he never made an issue of Arthur’s absence.

Dr. Burkle said he remembered everything moving very quickly while in Saudi Arabia because the ground offensive ended so quickly.  He said that during the redeployment process a number of junior officers approached him angry with Arthur’s behavior and absence and asked Dr. Burkle to court martial Arthur. Since Arthur was not in his direct chain of command, Burkle told the officers to pursue the complaint if they still felt very strongly when they returned to the United States.

“I remember thinking that Arthur was a tragic case of an officer who thought more of himself than his duty and would probably not amount to much now that he had tarnished his reputation,” Dr. Burkle said in an interview for this story. He now ponders how Dr. Arthur became the top medical professional in the Navy. Dr. Burkle said no one at the trauma center saw any combat action because that was not their function, as Dr. Arthur claimed he did, and found Arthur’s wearing of the combat action ribbon and claims of combat experience “incredulous and an insult to those at the trauma center and who did see combat action.”

Dr. Burkle said that a number of corpsmen told him that Dr. Arthur was stashed away in a tent with a woman but he didn’t independently verify that rumor.

Motorcycle Rider Extraordinaire

Arthur’s playing with the truth is not limited to his academic degrees or military career. It even extends to his decades-long enthusiasm for motorcycle riding. Arthur claimed to various motorcycle magazines, motorcycle related groups, and other motorcycle riders to have ridden 117,000 miles on his motorcycle in 2002. He made this claim even though in 2002 he was working full time as the deputy surgeon general of the Navy.

In August 2005, Arthur was involved in a motorcycle accident. At the time, he was quoted as saying that his helmet saved him from any brain injury. “Thanks to the helmet, I suffered no brain injury. My injuries are a pelvis fractured in three places, a separated right shoulder, and fracture separations of two ribs at the sternum which caused a pneumothorax.”

In an article that appeared March 5, 2007 on the Army News Service about brain injury treatment, Navy Surgeon General Arthur admitted that he suffered a serious brain injury from the motorcycle accident in 2005. "Arthur said he himself suffered a traumatic brain injury a year and a half ago and was initially embarrassed to talk about the problems he was having as a result." The article quotes Arthur saying, “Many cases of mild traumatic brain injury don't get reported because servicemembers don't recognize the symptoms or are too embarrassed to admit to problems with memory or other mental functions.”In a motorcycle related message board discussion of Arthur’s accident, Ken Markwell, another motorcycle riding enthusiast, said that Arthur was unconscious for 20-30 minutes.

The Case of Wheeler Lipes

Another facet of Crime Magazine’s investigation into Arthur uncovered that he had engaged in a near 10-year campaign to destroy the life and career of a colleague while both worked together in the Navy. In one of his first acts as the surgeon general of the Navy, Arthur used all the bureaucratic power of his office to stall and delay the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Wheeler Lipes, a dying WWII veteran who was reprimanded during the war for performing an unsanctioned appendectomy on a dying man. The appendectomy was unsanctioned because Lipes was only the rank of corpsman, not high enough to perform the procedure. That operation was successful and the man lived. Lipes is universally considered a hero today.

What follows is Lipes’s recollection of the incident as he told it to the Naval Historical Department in 1999. “I had been up on the watch and when I came down to the after battery section of the submarine – the crew's compartment – I found Darrell Rector. It was his 19th birthday. He said to me, ‘Hey Doc, I don't feel very good.’ I told him to get into his bunk and rest a bit and kept him under observation. His temperature was rising. He had the classic symptoms of appendicitis. The abdominal muscles were getting that washboard rigidity. He then began to flex his right leg up on his abdomen to get some relief. He worsened and I went to the CO [Commanding Officer] to report his condition. The skipper went back and talked to Rector explaining that there were no doctors around. Rector then said, ‘Whatever Lipes wants to do is OK with me.’ The CO and I had a long talk and he asked me what I was going to do. ‘Nothing,’ I replied. He lectured me about the fact that we were there to do the best we could. ‘I fire torpedoes every day and some of them miss,’ he reminded me. I told him that I could not fire this torpedo and miss. He asked me if I could do the surgery and I said yes. He then ordered me to do it.

“When I got to the appendix, it wasn't there. I thought. ‘Oh my God! Is this guy reversed?’ There are people like that with organs opposite where they should be. I slipped my finger down under the cecum – the blind gut – and felt it there. Suddenly I understood why it hadn't popped up where I could see it. I turned the cecum over. The appendix, which was five-inches long, was adhered, buried at the distal tip, and looked gangrenous two-thirds of the way. What luck, I thought. My first one couldn't be easy. I detached the appendix, tied it off in two places, and then removed it after which I cauterized the stump with phenol. I then neutralized the phenol with torpedo alcohol. There was no penicillin in those days. When you think of what we have in the armamentarium today to prevent infection, I marvel.”

Jan Herman is a recently retired Navy historian. He spoke exclusively with Crime Magazine about the ordeal behind getting Wheeler Lipes his Medal of Honor and how Arthur did everything in his power to make sure it didn’t happen. Herman was one of the driving forces in helping to finally award Lipes his long overdue medal. The other driving force was Admiral Mike Cowan. Cowan was Arthur’s predecessor as Navy surgeon general.

Herman said that Cowan heard about Lipes’s story from his own father, himself a Navy veteran. “Everyone in the submarine corps knew this story; it was kind of a legend.” Herman continued, “I felt that as the historian of the medical department that this was a great injustice.” Herman was referring to Lipes’s not receiving some sort of medal for his heroism that day in WWII.

In the early part of 2004, Herman said that he discussed this with Cowan, then the surgeon general of the Navy. Cowan told Herman to do the research and draw up a citation for approval. Herman said that after the necessary research the Navy decided to award Lipes the Navy Commendation Medal.

“We made arrangements to have him and his wife come up to Washington for the ceremony. The admiral and the admiral’s father invited Lipes to the admiral’s home for dinner.”

Unfortunately, as arrangements were being made, Lipes developed pancreatic cancer and the ceremony was temporarily delayed. It was only temporarily delayed at Lipes’s insistence, because he insisted it be rescheduled as soon as he got better. In the meantime, Cowan retired as Navy surgeon general.

Once Lipes got better, Herman took a new request to the new Surgeon General of the Navy, Vice Admiral Donald Arthur. Here’s how Herman said he recalled the conversation.

“A corpsman doing surgery,” said Arthur shaking his head in disapproval, “I don’t know if that will send the proper message to today’s corpsman.”

“Sir, I don’t understand. I think it sends a really great message. It says our corpsmen are trained and that they can save anyone’s life if called upon.” Herman said he replied.

“Don’t put it on my schedule, I don’t do that.” Herman said Arthur replied and ended the conversation.

From that point forward, Herman said that Arthur did everything in his power to stop Lipes from receiving the commendation.

“I was very disturbed by the prospect that Lipes would not get his medal in time.”

Herman said he attempted to make arrangements for Lipes to receive his medal despite Dr. Arthur’s opposition. Herman made plans with Camp Lejeune and relayed those plans to Naval Public Affairs Officer Mike Brady.

After conferring with Brady, Herman then went to the now retired Navy Surgeon General Mike Cowan and asked Cowan if he’d attend a ceremony for Lipes at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

About a week later, Herman said he got a phone call from Brady.

“I have some very bad news for you. He [Arthur] forbids you to go to North Carolina and you should have nothing to do with this,” said Brady.

After having a chance to think about it for a bit, Herman said that he realized that both he and Cowan were civilians and neither could be ordered to do anything by Arthur. As such, he made preparations to go to Camp Lejeune to present Lipes with his medal.

Upon hearing this, Arthur finally relented, but upon the condition that the ceremony be a private ceremony, unsanctioned by the Navy.


Another troubling part of Dr. Arthur’s past involves Dr. Eric Gluck, medical doctor and Navy veteran. Dr. Gluck said he first ran into Donald Arthur at the College of Dentistry and Medicine in New Jersey in 1979. Arthur was two years ahead of Dr. Gluck.

The next time he ran into Dr. Arthur was when Dr. Gluck was recruited by the Navy to teach advance laparoscopic surgery at the Navy Hospital Groton Submarine Base New London in 1996. This particular hospital is located in Groton, Connecticut and at the time, Dr. Arthur was in charge. According to Dr. Gluck, he thought he would come on active duty as a commander but Dr. Arthur intervened, and only gave him the rank of ensign. Dr. Arthur said that Dr. Gluck was misinformed about what his rank would be.

In May 2000, Dr. Gluck said he was blamed for a delay in an operation. According to the allegation, Dr. Gluck performed, “improper non-operative management of the perforation and delay in operating after the need for surgery was determined.”

An investigation into Dr. Gluck’s conduct in this case led to a larger review. This initial review led to the review of six cases. This review led to the review of 50 of Dr. Gluck’s cases. In 2000, Dr. Gluck was removed from performing surgeries.  This set off a larger investigation of 60-plus cases that Dr. Gluck was involved in.

By this time, Dr. Arthur had reached the position of deputy surgeon general of the Navy, and he was the one in charge of overseeing the investigation.

The peer review was allowed to go on even though there were a number of red flags. First, the peer review was supposed to be in front of five individuals who were all supposed to be surgeons, but only two were surgeons. Second, the peer review was supposed to review Dr. Gluck’s competence but instead reviewed his mental fitness. The peer review found that Dr. Gluck wasn’t mentally fit to be a surgeon in the fall of 2000.

Meanwhile, as part of the peer review process, Dr. Arthur, and a number of his subordinates, attempted to have Dr. Gluck committed to a military psychiatric facility. John Donlon witnessed this evaluation which occurred in June 2000. Donlon, 85, was a 40-year-veteran of the U.S. Navy. He said that in 2000 he accompanied Dr. Gluck to a meeting also attended by Dr. Arthur.

In speaking with Crime Magazine of his recollections of that meeting, Donlon said he was appalled at what transpired because subordinates to Dr. Gluck were making recommendations that he be committed even though by their rank, they were not in a position to make such a recommendation.

That idea was eventually scrapped and Donlon believes today that this was in part because Dr. Gluck brought him in as a witness to the proceedings.

Following the peer review findings in September 2000, Dr. Gluck’s superior officer, Gregory Atkinson, reviewed the findings and issued an evaluation in February of 2001, clearing Dr. Gluck of any wrongdoing and ordered Dr. Gluck back to work.

“I do not concur with the findings of the Administrative Panel. Your [Dr. Gluck’s] clinical privileges are hereby reinstated, without restriction, at Naval Ambulatory Care Center,” read the pertinent portion of Atkinson’s evaluation.

Atkinson was relieved of his command by Arthur shortly after issuing this evaluation. Atkinson was replaced by Captain Francis R. McMahon. McMahon is now deceased.

Dr. Gluck retired from the Navy in December 2002, but not before Dr. Arthur forced him to take a six-month’s supply of vaccinations all at once. Dr. Gluck said that Dr. Arthur threatened to dishonorably discharge Dr. Gluck if he refused to take the vaccination as ordered. Dr. Gluck said he developed multiple sclerosis a few months after taking this vaccination, which he believes was the result of what he took. He’s currently being treated for MS in the VA system.

Dr. Arthur retired from the Navy in 2007. According to Bridget Therriault, a spokesperson for Mainline Health Care, Dr. Arthur worked for Mainline Health Care in Philadelphia until December 2011. Ms. Therriault said that the company would have no further comment beyond that for this story. The U.S. Navy didn’t respond to a call and email for comment.

All those contacted for this article believe it is still not too late for Dr. Arthur to face justice for his many misdeeds during his naval career. They point out that each of his fraudulent degrees helped him achieve ranks he otherwise wouldn’t have received. With that, he also received pay he shouldn’t have received and is now receiving an inflated Navy pension. (According to Goldstein’s Philadelphia Inquirer article, that pension was $137,724 yearly in 2009.) All that would have been done fraudulently, they argue, and he should face punishment for it.

According to public records, Dr. Arthur currently lives in Brewster, Massachusetts. A phone call and FAX to the residence listed were left unreturned. The FAX listed a number of questions pertaining to the various accusations raised against Dr. Arthur in this article, seeking his direct response and input.

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