VA nurse accused of anti-gay tirade

Lesbian Marine vet files complaints against employee at Dallas hospital

READ THE FULL TEXT OF ESTHER GARATIE’S STATEMENT

Garatie.Esther

Marine veteran Esther Garatie

JOHN WRIGHT | Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

A wounded lesbian Marine veteran who sought mental health treatment at the Dallas VA Medical Center claims she was subjected to an extended anti-gay tirade by a nurse practitioner.

Esther Garatie, 28, a former Marine lance corporal who lives in Dallas, has filed complaints against the nurse practitioner, Lincy Pandithurai of Cedar Hill, with both the VA Medical Center and the Texas Board of Nursing.

Garatie and her friend, Jessica Gerson, have also launched an online petition at Change.org calling for Pandithurai to be fired. By Thursday, Oct. 27, the petition had more than 1,300 signatures.
Pandithurai didn’t return phone messages left at the VA Medical Center or her residence in Cedar Hill.

Garatie, a native of New Orleans who moved to Dallas earlier this year, said she was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2006 after severely injuring her leg while on active duty.

She said she went to the Dallas VA Medical Center on Oct. 12 to seek treatment for severe depression and possible post-traumatic stress disorder — including thoughts of suicide.

In a three-page written statement about the incident, Garatie alleges that Pandithurai inquired about her sexual orientation at the outset of their meeting. After Garatie responded that she was a lesbian, Pandithurai told Garatie she was living in sin and said that was the reason for her mental health issues, according to the statement.

“She sat down and looked at me, and her first question was, ‘Are you a lesbian?’” Garatie wrote in the statement. “Her second question to me was, ‘Have you asked God into your heart? Have you been saved by Jesus Christ?’ This is when I realized that I was no longer a United States veteran in her eyes, I was just a homosexual.”

The session lasted for more than three hours, with Pandithurai citing the Bible and repeatedly telling Garatie she was living in darkness and would be doomed to hell if she didn’t “come back to ‘the light,’” according to the statement.

Pandithurai told Garatie she could change her sexual orientation. Pandithurai also told Garatie homosexuality was a diagnosable condition until President Barack Obama changed that, the statement alleges.

Penny Kerby, a spokeswoman for the VA Medical Center, confirmed that Garatie’s complaint is under investigation.

“VA North Texas Health Care System does not tolerate discrimination on any level and takes any allegation of such behavior seriously,” Kerby said in a statement. “Each employee who interacts with every veteran patient is expected to demonstrate our core values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence. This allegation is being investigated and if substantiated, appropriate measures will be taken to address the issue.”

Bruce Holter, a spokesman for the Texas Board of Nursing, said the agency doesn’t comment on investigations that are in progress.

The state’s Standards of Nursing Practice prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, Holter said.

According to the board’s website, Pandithurai has been registered as a nurse in Texas since 1993, with no previous disciplinary action against her.

Garatie said she’s not the type of person who would normally try to get someone fired, but she wants to prevent the same thing from happening to other gay veterans — particularly after the recent repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Hospital visitation rules take effect

Parkland Hospital

An executive order saying hospitals that receive federal funding must allow same-sex visitation went into effect on Tuesday.

Federal funding includes Medicare and Medicaid payments.

President Barack Obama issued the order last year after hearing about a case in which a woman wasn’t allowed to see her partner before she died.

“We applaud the Obama administration’s steps to address the discrimination affecting LGBT patients and their families,” Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart said in a statement. “Now, in hospitals across the nation, LGBT people and their families will have more protections so they can be by their loved one’s side when they are sick and need them most.”

The city of Dallas has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Partners in Dallas should have access based on public accommodations, and no complaints against a Dallas hospital has been filed since the ordinance went into effect.

Hospitals in other cities that prevented partners from visiting loved ones used the excuse that only immediate family members could visit.

I contacted several area hospitals for comment and heard back from Parkland.

“Parkland will continue to offer an open visitation policy to all patients and their family members. Research has shown that patient care is greatly enhanced by the more time a family spends with the patient,” said Miriam Sibley, Parkland’s senior vice president and chief nursing officer.

I thought this was interesting wording. While that same wording has been used elsewhere to exclude people, at Parkland it’s meant to express acceptance of same-sex partners as family that is — and has been — welcome.

The full Lambda Legal press release is after the jump.

—  David Taffet