BREAKING: Nurse to retire after Dallas VA Medical Center upholds lesbian Marine vet’s complaint

Esther Garatie

The Dallas VA Medical Center has substantiated allegations that a nurse discriminated against a lesbian Marine veteran who sought mental health treatment, and the nurse will retire effective Saturday, according to a statement released by the hospital today.

The nurse, Lincy Pandithurai of Cedar Hill, had been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the hospital’s investigation into a complaint from 28-year-old Esther Garatie of Irving. Garatie, a former Marine lance corporal who was honorably discharged in 2006, said she sought treatment for severe depression and possible post-traumatic stress disorder — including thoughts of suicide — on Oct. 12.

Garatie alleges that during a two-hour tirade, Pandithurai told her she was living in sin and said that was the reason for her mental health issues. Garatie said the nurse advised her to accept Jesus and become straight.

Monica Smith, a spokeswoman for the VA Medical Center, said in a statement today that the hospital’s Administrative Investigative Board has completed its investigation.

“The board was able to substantiate material portions of the veteran’s claims,” Smith said. “VA North Texas Health Care System will continue to provide an environment where veterans can receive the physical and emotional healing that they desire and deserve. As such, we remain committed to respecting diversity and providing the best possible care to all veterans. Our commitment to equal rights remains strong as we practice our core values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence. Ms. Pandithurai will retire from federal service effective January 21, 2012.”

As of this afternoon, a Change.org petition calling for Pandithurai’s termination has almost 20,000 signatures. Garatie also filed a complaint with the Texas Board of Nursing.

—  John Wright

Dallas VA hospital to decide within ‘a few weeks’ on discipline for nurse accused of anti-gay tirade

Esther Garatie

Five weeks after our initial story on Esther Garatie, The Dallas Morning News (subscription only) published a piece on the front page of its Metro section Sunday about the lesbian Marine veteran who alleges she was subject to a hateful anti-gay tirade by a nurse practitioner at the Dallas VA Medical Center in October.

Better late than never, we suppose. And while we could argue that the DMN should have given us credit as the media outlet that broke the story — as the Dallas Observer so graciously did a few weeks back — it’s also true that the Change.org petition calling for the nurse to be fired predated even our report.

Anyhow, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of new info in the DMN story, but there are a few interesting tidbits. One is that supporters of the nurse, Lincy Pandithurai of Cedar Hill, have launched a Facebook page called, “Support Lincy T Pandithurai (nurse).” When we checked this afternoon, the page had a whopping total of 36 members —  compared to the more than 16,000 who’ve signed the Change.org petition (and the 196 who’ve joined another FB page called, “Fire Nurse Lincy Pandithurai and Revoke Her License“).

But back to the “Support Lincy T Pandithurai (nurse)” FB page mentioned by the DMN, which says the following under Info:

“This dear sweet nurse dared to witness Jesus Christ to a lost lesbian. So now the the gay community would rather see a good nurse fired rather than someone possibly have an opportunity to choose another path. How sad is that? Fellow Americans I ask you to wake up,speak out before it is too late. Let’s show this loving nurse our support. Pray for the lost soul she witnessed to. I bet she never said an unkind word.”

—  John Wright

Dallas VA hospital puts nurse on administrative duty after lesbian Marine veteran’s complaint

Esther Garatie

Last month we told you about Esther Garatie, a lesbian Marine veteran who says she became the victim of anti-gay harassment by a nurse practitioner when she sought mental health treatment at the Dallas VA Medical Center.

Today Change.org is reporting — and Dallas Voice has confirmed — that the nurse practitioner, Lincy Pandithurai, has been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the VA Medical Center’s investigation into Garatie’s complaint.

“We started a fact-finding review when this allegation was first brought to our attention,” VA Medical Center spokeswoman Monica A. Smith said in an email. “To get a more in-depth look at the allegation, VA North Texas is now conducting an administrative investigation board review and expects to have that completed by the end of November. The nurse named in the allegation is currently placed on administrative duties while the investigation is ongoing.”

Smith explained that administrative duty means Pandithurai is assigned to a non-clinical area and is not seeing patients. Smith declined to specify the date when Pandithurai was placed on administrative duty.

The Change.org petition calling for the VA Medical Center to fire Pandithurai — which was launched by Garatie’s friend Jessica Gerson in the wake of the alleged incident — now has almost 13,000 signatures.

 

 

—  John Wright

Esther Garatie’s statement

Here’s the full text of Esther Garatie’s statement:

October 13, 2011

My name is Esther Garatie, and I am an Honorably Discharged Veteran of the United States Marine Corps.  I was badly injured while serving my active duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom, in California.  After seeking council from my Master Gunnery Sgt., it was decided that it would be best for me to separate from the Corps medically.  Yesterday, October 12, I went to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Dallas, TX.  I went in search of help because I have been suffering from severe depression and anxiety for years following the unexpected end of my service to my country.   I prayed for days beforehand, and the whole way there that morning.  I asked God to allow whatever was supposed to happen to me that day, whatever his plan was for my life, for it to happen, and for him to be with me every step of the way.   I was lost, hopeless, and already in a horrible place mentally, and I felt like this was literally my last hope in life.

I checked in as a new veteran to the area, as I am originally from New Orleans, LA.  I was treated wonderfully by the staff as I checked in. I felt surprisingly optimistic about what was about to happen.  I was told that I could immediately be seen by a Mental Health professional, that day.   Finally, I would be able to get the help I needed. I thought of infinite possibilities and outcomes, and even the possibility of re-enlisting and being able to continue to serve my God and country.  I felt hopeful, for the first time in years.  That quickly changed.

I waited in the waiting room for my appointment, and filled out all the normal check-in paperwork, which included my current menstrual cycle, as I had also been suffering pain from Endometriosis, a female disease.  I included information about my medical discharge injuries, while serving active duty, and that I was suffering from severe depression and possibly PTSD.    I heard my name called, “Esther.”  I got up and walked toward the voice of the woman, who barely looked at me, and called me “Sir.”  I followed her into her office and before I sat down, politely said, “Actually, it’s Ma’am….  My name is Esther.”  She sat down and looked at me, and her first question to me was, “Are you a Lesbian?”  I honestly stopped for a moment in shock, not knowing what to say.  Nowhere on the form, I had just filled out, did it ask me anything about my sexual orientation.  I was so confused!  I answered honestly, “Yes, I am gay.”

At this point I wasn’t really sure what to think.  She then began to ask me about my depression and anxiety, and I became very emotional. This was why I was there, because my depression had gotten so bad that I had had horrible thoughts of suicide previously, and knew that I needed professional psychological help.  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 fact is, I was raised in a Non-Denominational church for most of my life, and consider myself to have a very personal relationship with God.  I was saved, baptized, twice actually. The first time I was a child and it was my parent’s decision, so I asked to be baptized again when I became a teenager and was able to make that decision for myself, and ask Jesus, again, into my heart.

After I told the Nurse Practitioner this, she began preaching to me about ‘the light’ and ‘the darkness’.  She told me I was surrounded by darkness, and depressed because I was living in sin, and the only way to be happy again was to come back to ‘the light.’  She turned off the lights in her office and asked, “What do you see?”  Honestly, her computer monitor was illuminating her face, so all I could see was her face and this darkness in her eyes as she looked at me.  I didn’t know how to answer.  I didn’t even know what was happening.  I was almost terrified in that moment, and I am a Marine, someone who doesn’t scare easily.  I said, “It’s darker in here…?”  She said, “Yes darkness, it’s surrounding you.”  She then turned the light back on and said, “Now there is light!  The darkness is Satan, and the light is God.”

I have read and studied my Bible my entire life.  I was named after Queen Esther, from the Bible. I am very familiar with not only her story, but numerous stories that are preached throughout many different organized religions.  At this moment, all I wanted to do was leave, because I realized I had just entered this woman’s own idea of Christianity, or belief system, and was about to receive a sermon of whatever it is she believes to be true.   I remembered praying on the way there that day, and talking to God personally, and something inside me told me I needed to stay, no matter how much I wanted to run out that door.

She then asked me if I was a man or a woman.   I immediately responded, “I am a woman, obviously!  What are you talking about?”  She proceeded to tell me that in the beginning, God made man, and breathed life into this man, and that woman was created from man.  She then told me several other stories about St. Peter, and the pearly gates of Heaven, and the fiery pits of Hell, where those who live in darkness will be cast and taken by the dark angels when St. Peter tells them “your name isn’t in the book”.   This went on for what seemed like forever.  I honestly was sometimes partially listening, and partially praying to myself, at this point, “God, give me the strength, just give me strength.”

She then began giving me names of people who have chosen to go back to ‘the light’ and have become evangelists, and said I should be hopeful because there were churches now that actually accept homosexuals.  She continually pointed at her office door, the one all I wanted to do was run out of, and she said, “When you walk out this door, you need to pray and ask God for whatever his purpose is for your life, for him to show you, and bring you to his light.”  Ironically, this is something close to what I have prayed for every single day, since I left the military service, and had just prayed for that morning.   I had been praying for whatever God’s will was for my life, for him to show me the way and use my life to best service Him and His message.  This is the moment when she told me that “…maybe God’s plan for your life is to choose to return to the light, and then you could ‘help’ your friends, who are still in darkness and going to Hell, back to the light.  When I started practicing medicine there was actually a diagnosis for homosexuality, but they’ve gotten rid of that now, since Obama.”  Immediately, I answered “Do you think I chose to be gay?  Why would I choose to have to deal with persecution because of the person I happen to fall in love with and want to spend the rest of my life with?  I was born this way, I was born gay.”  She, again, asked me whether I was a man or a woman.   I answered in the same way I did previously, becoming more and more confused with what was still happening, and she said, “We all have a choice.”  I agreed and said, “Yes, God gave us free will, we choose to walk in his footsteps, and be the best person we can be.   We choose what values are most important to us, we choose not to cheat, or steal, or hurt one another.  We choose to spread the message of love and acceptance, instead of hate and persecution, but we, or at least I did not choose to be gay!  God made me this way, and my God does not make mistakes!”  She said, “God doesn’t make mistakes, he made you a woman.”  I said, “Yes, I know I am a woman, but homosexuality occurs in nature with animals too, are you saying that that is a mistake made by God?!”  She ignored me, and gave me a pamphlet to read on anger management while she began typing on her computer.

At this point, the woman then began asking me about my experiences with men, the opposite sex.  “How many boyfriends have you had?  Did you kiss them?  Did you touch them?  Did you have sex with them?  How did you feel when you were kissing them?”  I was completely mortified, and this overwhelming feeling of disgust at the thoughts and things she was asking me just came over me in that moment.   I felt so confused and angry, and an indescribable depression, all at once.  She kept pointing at the door.  Now, more than ever before, as she pointed and continued speaking all this nonsense, all I could think of was how, when I walked out that door, I wanted to and was going to kill myself, without question.  The tears began pouring down my face like never before, because I had already felt lost going in there, but not like this!  I truly wanted to die at that moment, because she was telling me that I was already going to Hell because of the person I fell in love with…. “Why not go ahead and kill myself now, then?” I thought to myself.

As I sat there crying and trying to hold myself together, so confused, and feeling more lost and suicidal than when I walked in that morning, she stopped typing, looked over at me and asked, “If a homosexual woman is called a Lesbian, what do you call a man who is homosexual?”  Completely dumbfounded, I replied, “I don’t know, gay!”  I was so incredibly hurt, angry, and confused.  She stared at me crying and gave me my diagnosis.  “You are definitely depressed,” she said.  “The reason you are so upset is because you feel the darkness surrounding you, and you feel guilty about being a homosexual and living in sin.  I’m going to prescribe you some anti-depressants, maybe they’ll help, but I’m not saying that you aren’t going to continue to want to kill yourself.”  The woman then gave me a magnet with a number to call, a suicide hotline, and said, “Call that number before you do.”  Those were the words of a Nurse Practitioner, at a VA Hospital, that I was left with, as I walked out the door, contemplating my inevitable demise.

 

—  John Wright

VA hospital policies include sexual orientation

In Friday’s Voice we have a story about a lesbian Marine veteran who alleges she was the victim of an anti-gay tirade by a nurse practitioner at the Dallas VA Medical Center. In putting together the story, I asked the folks in the public affairs office at the VA Medical Center whether their policies specifically include sexual orientation. It turns out they do, but I didn’t receive their response in time to include it in the story. Here’s the response that was sent over Thursday afternoon by VA Medical Center spokeswoman Monica A. Smith:

In response to your question: yes, we have EEO and code of ethics policies, and all employees are required to receive anti-discrimination training annually. Additionally, patient’s bill of rights is shared with both consumers and staff that specifically states consumers have the right to considerate, respectful care from all members of the health care system at all times and under all circumstances. It also states we must not discriminate against consumers in the delivery of health care services consistent with the benefits covered in their policy or as required by law based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, or source of payment.

—  John Wright