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Yet Robert McCarthy, a 55-year-old lawyer, has found himself in the unenviable position of serial whistleblower. “The last time was so stressful, I never imagined getting into this situation again,” he says in a telephone interview from his home in El Paso. A former lawyer for the U.S. Department of the Interior, McCarthy had already been through a rough couple of years in California, serving as a key witness in a massive classaction lawsuit filed by Native American tribes against the U.S. government. McCarthy’s testimony in 2007 that the Interior Department couldn’t account for income from leases it managed on behalf of Native American landowners was crucial in winning the case for the plaintiffs. Congress created the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989 to legally protect federal employees when they report agency misconduct. Despite those protections, McCarthy felt that his role in the lawsuit made it impossible to return to the Interior Department. He figured his days as a federal employee were over. “I never thought I’d be hired by another federal agency again once it was known that I was a whistleblower,” he says. So he felt lucky in January 2009, when he was hired as general counsel at the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission in El Paso. Whatever qualms he might have had, the promise of federally funded health insurance and retirement benefits beckoned. The commission is a key federal agency along the border. Created in 1889, the panel handles border treaties with Mexico and operates several international dams and water-treatment plants. One of its jobs is to keep levees along the Rio Grande from crumbling. After six months at the agency, McCarthy was fired after reporting that its officials allegedly conducted secret surveillance of agency employees, altered official government records, made false reports to the Inspector General, manipulated payrolls and mismanaged $22o million in Recovery Act money for reinforcing river levees. McCarthy says he brought his concerns to his superiors before blowing the whistle, but nothing was done. “Sure, I could have given up and done what I was told,” he says. “But when you do that, you are just as responsible for those violations.” In September, McCarthy sued the commission for wrongfully firing a whistleblower. Now he pursues his case from his home in El Paso. His house in California is in foreclosure, he says. He never expected to be without an income for so long. The case could take months to resolve, and in a whistleblower case, the plaintiff can only sue for relief, not damages. On the bright side, McCarthy says his wife found a job in El Paso, and the couple is enjoying their new home. “The city is great, and the people are extremely friendly” he says. Ultimately, McCarthy hopes to get his job back at the boundary commission. The life of a whistleblower can be lonely and difficult. “I’m working on the suit every day. It’s stressful and time-consuming,” he says. “I would say only if you are willing to lose your job and move on, should you attempt it.” Melissa del Bosque A Systemic Problem OTTY SANCHEZ KILLED HER SON, BUT THE SYSTEM LET HER DOWN On the tape of the 911 call, Otty Sanchez screams in the background that the devil made her do it. It was an early morning in July, and Sanchez’s sister was calling for help. When San Antonio police arrived, they found a gruesome scene: Sanchez had decapitated her 3-week-old son, mutilated his body and eaten some of the flesh. The case made national news and became one of the summer’s most lurid crime stories. In recent weeks, more details about the case have emerged, and it appears Texas’ public mental health systemlong neglected by state lawmakerswas partly to blame for the tragedy. The 33-year-old Sanchez has a history of severe mental illness. She had been released from a state-run mental health facility and was offered few services in the weeks leading up to the murder, despite reporting that she was hearing voices. A jury will soon determine whether she’s competent to stand trial. A court-appointed psychologist has already concluded that she is of sufficiently sound mind. If Sanchez does stand trial, the state, which offered few mental health services, will try to give her a death sentence. Texas ranks 49th nationally in per-capita spending on mental health services. For adults with severe mental illness, there are few affordable options. Texas’ dozen state hospitalsthe state’s only public inpatient facilitiesare frequently full. Patients usually don’t stay longer than a few months. When people like Sanchez descend into crisis, there is a dearth of services. Clinics and hospitals that offer temporary beds for mental patients are often overwhelmed. In many areas, patients in crisis are offered medication and outpatient treatment. Sometimes that’s not enough. That appears to be what happened with Sanchez. Sanchez suffered from schizophrenia. She was institutionalized for six weeks last year after she was found wandering in an Austin drugstore searching for a trip to China, her lawyer recently told the San Antonio Express -News. Like so many others, she was released from the public facility to make room for new patients. Private inpatient facilities are expensive, and few insurance plans cover lengthy stays. After giving birth to her son this summer, Sanchez was prescribed an anti-depressant, her lawyer, Ed Camera, told the Express -News, but she rarely took it. Sanchez was suffering postpartum psychosis, a rare but extreme version of postpartum depression in which new mothers hallucinate and feel urges to harm their newborns. It’s especially common in women with a history of severe mental illness. Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who killed her five children in 2001, is perhaps the most famous case. A week before the murder, Sanchez went to a counseling center to complain of hearing voices, Camera told the ExpressNews. The clinic called an ambulance, and Sanchez was taken to the emergency room, but later released. She returned home, and a few days later, attacked her young son. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 27, 2009