Donald Soeken

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Donald Ray Soeken
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Born (1941-12-28) December 28, 1941 (age 81)
CitizenshipUnited States of America
  • psychiatric social worker
  • author
  • journalist

Donald Ray Soeken, LCSW-C, Ph.D, is an American psychiatric social worker, author, journalist and expert witness who has specialized for more than forty years in counseling and defending U.S. whistleblowers. Named a Social Work Pioneer® in 2017[1][2] by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Dr. Soeken played a decisive role in the government’s establishment in January 1984 of regulations[3][4] prohibiting forced “fitness-for-duty” psychiatric examinations. In 1967, Dr. Soeken joined the United States Public Health Service as a psychiatric social worker, and served as a counselor at several federal health facilities in the District of Columbia area. While counseling patients at the USPHS Outpatient Clinic, Dr. Soeken discovered that many of them had been sent to government-hired psychiatrists after the patients had blown the whistle on abuses, fraud, or wasteful practices at their federal agencies. These patients were in fact being required to take forced psychiatric “fitness-for-duty” exams by their supervisors, whose government-sponsored psychiatrists were usually all too willing to describe them as mentally ill and unfit to continue in their jobs. In many cases, the targeted employees were then required to accept "disability retirement" and were often forced to live on tiny federal government pensions. In 1978, Soeken testified before the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee[5]. He noted that most of the federal employees who were sent to him for psychiatric “fitness-for-duty” exams were not mentally ill, and should not have been forced to take the exams against their will. As reported in the New York Times[6]and the Washington Post[7], Dr. Soeken's testimony provided key information that ensured enactment of the new regulations, which ended what the news media and the U.S. Congress had described as a "clearly unconstitutional practice."

Early Years and Education

Donald Ray Soeken was born in Lyons, Kansas, on Dec 28, 1941, to a family of devout Lutheran farmers who grew wheat and raised cattle.[8] His grandparents were immigrants from Ostfriesland, Germany, on one side; the other side of his heritage included the descendants of many German Russians who had lived for about a century in the Volga River region of Russia before emigrating to the American Midwest in the late nineteenth century. After graduating in 1959 from Lyons High School, where he was an outstanding athlete, Soeken attended the Lutheran-run Valparaiso University. There he majored in theology and played on the university’s football team. In 1966, he earned a master's degree in social work at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he also helped to run an educational outreach program for emotionally challenged adolescents in the inner city and a home for emotionally disturbed children. He earned a post-master's degree at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in 1978. In 1967, Dr. Soeken joined the United States Public Health Service as a psychiatric social worker and served as a counselor at several federal health facilities in the District of Columbia area. He served the community of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., from 1985 to 1994. While there he worked as a case manager, coordinated substance abuse programs, and developed enhancements to substance abuse treatment, often working with patients who had become ill while serving as federal and District of Columbia employees.

Career Highlights

Since blowing the whistle before Congress, Dr. Soeken has gone on to become America’s best-known psychological counselor to whistleblowers. He’s been featured in the New York Times[9][10], Washington Post[11], Newsweek[12], and many other publications[13][14][15][16][17][18], and has appeared on the CBS Evening News[19]. Soeken is also an accomplished journalist whose stories and columns about whistleblowers and the psychological price paid by these truth-tellers have appeared in many newspapers and magazines – including Mother Jones (magazine)|Mother Jones[20], Huffington Post[21], Baltimore Sun[22], St. Paul Pioneer Press[23]and Business Ethics Magazine.[24] His expert-witness testimony in the courtroom is credited with helping to win dozens of cases involving illegal reprisals that had been used to punish whistleblowers in government and business alike, and also led to numerous court victories for whistleblowers. His testimony and advice helped win them large settlements totaling more than $100 million in punitive damages. Beginning in 1980, Soeken has served as the director of the Whistleblower Support Fund[25], a nonprofit that advocates for whistleblowers and promotes ethical behavior in the home and workplace. The Fund began as Integrity International/Associated Mental Health Specialties, which worked to meet the counseling needs of whistleblowers. As a feature of the Whistleblower Support Fund, Soeken maintains the International Whistleblower Archive[26][27], a permanent digital library of documents, articles, videos, and other materials associated with whistleblower cases. Pieces in the archive include documents from Ernie Fitzgerald, who reported massive fraudulent cost overruns in Pentagon weapons programs, and FBI whistleblower Fred Whitehurst, who exposed evidence rigging and other fraudulent practices at the Bureau's major crime laboratory. Soeken retired from the United States Public Health Service in 1994 with the rank of 06 Captain in USPHS. He has been a member of the Commissioned Officers Association of America of the USPHS, and a life member of the Military Officer’s Association of America and of Disabled American Veterans. He is also a life member of the VFW.

Survey of Whistleblowers

In 1986, Soeken, along with his wife, Dr. Karen Soeken, completed a survey of over 100 whistleblowers. The results of this survey were published in the New York Times[28] and other publications.[29][30][31] The survey found that, despite suffering retaliation, most would blow the whistle again.

Whistle Stop Farm

Soeken provides a haven for whistleblowers who need one at his farm in West Virginia. Nicknamed the “Whistle Stop,” it’s a quiet getaway that offers a respite from the financial and emotional stresses that whistleblowers often suffer.[32][33]

Book about Whistleblowers

In 2014, Soeken published the book Don’t Kill the Messenger!: How America's Valiant Whistleblowers Risk Everything in Order to Speak Out Against Waste, Fraud and Abuse in Business and Government.[34]The book is about his time counseling whistleblowers, and profiles nine Americans who have recently exposed abuses in several federal agencies. All nine individuals profiled were counseled by Soeken during his career.

Awards and Recognition

As a result of his service to whistleblowers, Dr. Soeken has received numerous awards and citations and extensive news media coverage during the past several decades. Among his awards are: § The Jack Otis Whistleblower Award, October 1994, recognizing social workers who confront unethical practices at personal risk. § The Valparaiso University Alumni Achievement Award, 1993, for outstanding achievement in chosen career.[35] § The National Association of Social Workers’ Lifetime Achievement Award, 1991, for work by persons of integrity. § The Psychiatric Institute Foundation’s ‘Mental Health Achievement Award for Legislation,’ 1985, in recognition of sustained efforts to improve the mental health of the residents of metropolitan Washington.[36] § The 2017 Pioneer Award of the National Association of Social Workers in honor of lifetime service as a groundbreaking leader who has helped to improve social work practices in the United States.[37]


  1. {{cite web [|title=NASW Pioneers Biography Index |url= |website=]}}
  2. {{cite web [|title=Eight Social Work Leaders Join Social Work Pioneers |url= |website= |publisher=NASW News]}}
  3. "U.S. Code". U.S. Government.
  4. "Whistleblower Protections for Federal Employees". U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.
  5. "Forced Retirement/psychiatric Fitness for Duty Exams". U.S. Government Printing Office. 1978.
  6. "In Defense of the Government's Whistle Blowers". New York Times.
  7. Anderson, Jack (1985-03-16). "Whistleblower Stress". Washington Post.
  8. Schneider, Shane (2003-12-04). "Lyons native relies on his roots". Lyons Daily News. Vol. 98, no. 200.
  9. Farnsworth, Clyde H. (26 July 1988). "WASHINGTON TALK: FEDERAL EMPLOYEES; In Defense of the Government's Whistle Blowers". The New York Times. New York Times.
  10. Biddle, Wayne (1984-12-15). "Whistle Blowers' Stress Eased Here". New York Times.
  11. Oldenburg, Don (1987-03-31). "Whistle Blower's Anguish". Washington Post.
  12. Cohn, Bob (1988-06-27). "New Help for Whistle Blowers". Newsweek.
  13. Bradley, Barbara (1986-12-08). "When executives blow the whistle, the echo is apt to be shrill. Those who toot on flab or fraud need strong ears and finances". Christian Science Monitor.
  14. Holzberg, Janene (2019-12-09). "'Speaking the truth to power': Ellicott City man's nonprofit focuses on the welfare of whistleblowers". Baltimore Sun.
  15. Polman, Dick (1989-06-18). "Telling the Truth, Paying the Price". Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine.
  16. Goldberg, Jeff (November 1990). "Truth & Consequences". Vol. 13, no. 2. Omni Magazine.
  17. Berman, Karen (1987-05-01). "Most Whistleblowers face harassment, not thanks". The Telegram - Bridgeport, CT.
  18. Lazo, Rodrigo (1992-04-20). "Why Blow the Whistle?". Vol. 28, no. 10. Federal Times.
  19. Reaves, Gary (1989-03-05). "CBS Evening News - Inside Sunday". CBS.
  20. Soeken, Donald; Nugent, Tom. "River of Trouble". No. October 1991. Mother Jones.
  21. Soeken, Don; Nugent, Tom (26 August 2011). "As U.S. Energy Companies Blow-Up Appalachian Mountaintops, the Nation's Lawmakers Yawn With Indifference". HuffPost.
  22. Soeken, Donald R. (2019-11-19). "Impeachment hearings serve as painful, hopeful reminder to veteran whistleblower".
  23. Soeken, Donald (21 November 2019). "Impeachment hearings serve as painful, hopeful reminder to veteran whistleblower". Twin Cities. Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
  24. Soeken, Donald (2003-12-16). "Sue's cough was getting worse, but her supervisor seemed unapproachable". Business Ethics Magazine.
  25. "Whistleblower Support Fund".
  26. "Whistleblower Support Center and Archive Features Growing Collection of Resources". AALL's Washington Blawg. American Association of Law Libraries. 25 June 2010.
  27. "International Whistleblower Archive – Whistleblower Support Fund".
  28. Farnsworth, Clyde H. (22 February 1987). "SURVEY OF WHISTLE BLOWERS FINDS RETALIATION BUT FEW REGRETS (Published 1987)". The New York Times.
  29. Rost, Peter (13 July 2007). "Whistleblowers -- Who Are They?". nj.
  30. Pawlyna, Andrea (29 April 1987). "Study Finds Whistle Blowers Loyal, Conscientious". Baltimore Sun.
  31. "Ailing Canaries Find a Nest". Washington Times. May 11, 1989.
  32. Anderson, Jack (1981-08-18). "A Haven for Whistleblowers". Parade Magazine.
  33. GLAROS, TONY (3 January 1993). "WHISTLER'S COVER". Washington Post.
  34. Soeken, Donald Ray (2014). Don't Kill the Messenger. ISBN 978-1492898092.
  35. "Alumni Awards". Valparaiso University.
  36. Oldenburg, Don (1987-03-31). "Whistle Blower's Anguish". Washington Post.
  37. {{cite web [|title=NASW Pioneers Biography Index |url= |website=]}}

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