VA hospital still reviewing lesbian vet’s complaint

Officials to decide on discipline for nurse accused of anti-gay tirade

Esther Garatie

Esther Garatie

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Officials at the Dallas VA Medical Center are expected to decide within weeks whether to discipline a nurse accused of discriminating against a lesbian Marine veteran who sought mental health treatment.

The VA Medical Center has placed the nurse, Lincy Pandithurai of Cedar Hill, on administrative duty pending the outcome of its 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 A. Smith, a spokesman for the VA Medical Center, said this week that the hospital’s investigative board completed its inquiry into Garatie’s complaint on Friday, Dec. 2. The investigative board’s report will now be forwarded the hospital’s Executive Office.

“The Executive Office, Human Resources, and the Office of General Counsel will review the board’s report and determine what, if any, actions are necessary,” Smith said. “We expect this will take no longer than a few weeks.”

More than 16,000 people have signed a petition at Change.org calling for the VA Medical Center to terminate Pandithurai based on Garatie’s complaint. Garatie has also filed a complaint against Pandithurai with the Texas Board of Nursing.

Both the VA Medical Center and the Board of Nursing have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Pandithurai didn’t return phone messages from Dallas Voice seeking comment about the complaints.

Since Dallas Voice first reported on the complaints in late October, both the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News have published articles.

Jessica Gerson, Garatie’s close friend who’s been assisting her with the complaints, said this week that the ex-Marine is holding up well despite the publicity. However, Gerson said the VA Medical Center is still “dragging their feet on providing real therapy.”

Gerson said Garatie has finally been assigned a permanent therapist but won’t be able to see the doctor until Dec. 16.

“This is rather disheartening, as you might imagine, but unfortunately not particularly surprising at this point,” Gerson said in an email this week. “The publicity has been hard for her, particularly the need to relive what happened at the VA (and some of her other traumatic experiences) over and over again, but she’s been a real trouper, as ever.

“She’s such a private person that this publicity has been deeply uncomfortable for her, not only because of the need to relive her experiences, but also simply because she’s the kind of person who prefers to stay quietly in the background,’ Gerson said. “It’s taken a great deal of courage for her to set her preference for privacy aside enough to seek justice for what happened.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

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

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

Putting the final touches on Black Tie

Co-chairs hoping for banner year as fundraiser marks its 30th year

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com
With two weeks left to go before the annual Black Tie Dinner, organizers are busy putting the finishing touches on what BTD Co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis said this week will be one of the most outstanding events in the dinner’s 30-year history.

“We have a particularly good line up for the dinner this year,” Arnold said. “We are absolutely thrilled to have Marlee Matlin as our keynote speaker this year. And we have an emcee — Caroline Rhea — this year for the first time. I am sure our patrons will be glad they don’t have to listen to me and Chris all night!”

Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of television’s Modern Family will be on hand to accept the 2011 Media Award, and singer Taylor Dayne will provide entertainment.

Gay Marine veteran Eric Alva, the first U.S. serviceman injured in the war in Iraq, will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award, and partners Chet Flake and the late Bud Knight will receive the Kuchling Humanitarian Award.

Arnold noted that tables at the dinner sold out in August, “before we even announced that Marlee Matlin would be our guest speaker. We were just ecstatic when we sold out that early. I think that is the earliest date we’ve ever sold out,” Arnold said.

But the co-chairs also pointed out that there is a waiting list available for regular and VIP individual tickets that might become available at the last minute. “Anyone who still wants to buy a ticket can go online to our website, BlackTie.org, and get on the waiting list. Or if you want to talk to someone directly, email Mitzi Lemons at mlemons@blacktie.org,” Kouvelis said.

Arnold added, “We will also accept cash donations from folks who want to support the organization but can’t attend the dinner.”

“Thirty years is a huge milestone, no doubt. But we had a huge retrospective for our 25th anniversary, bringing in past board members and honorees from out of town and looking back at the history of Black Tie, and that wasn’t that long ago,” Arnold said. “So we chose to focus on having a celebration, on looking ahead to 30 more great years. That’s why we chose ‘Shine’ as our theme this year, because we want to shine a light into the future.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas