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

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

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

School district blames Asher Brown’s suicide on problems at home, not anti-gay bullying

The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District on Friday released preliminary findings from its investigation into the suicide of Asher Brown, the gay 13-year-old whose parents say he was “bullied to death.” Once again, the district is denying that it ever received any complaints about bullying from Asher’s parents. Instead, the district’s findings insinuate that problems at home led to Asher’s suicide. Here are the district’s findings, according to KHOU.com:

• Upon enrollment, his mother reported his personal history, which included post-traumatic stress disorder. • Asher had established relationships and accessed both his sixth-and seventh-grade counselors.

• His recent academic progress report reflected all A’s in his classes and his class conduct was excellent.

• Prior to Asher Brown’s death, the parents made no contact with the school regarding concerns of bullying.

• Although the campus did not receive concerns from the family regarding bullying, his mother contacted his counselor approximately two weeks prior to his death requesting assistance from school staff members in monitoring Asher’s behavior due to a significant emotional struggle within the family. Asher’s counselor alerted all his teachers and assistant principal of their family’s situation.

• The following week, an assistant principal followed up with Asher’s mother by phone.

• District administrators have been unable to substantiate specific instances of alleged bullying of Asher; however, some student information indicates a perception that Asher was mistreated by classmates, but those concerns were not reported.

As it turns out, Cy-Fair ISD spokeswoman Kelli Durham is married to an assistant principal at Asher’s school — a possible conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos says she is “very concerned” about whether bullying led to Asher’s suicide. Lykos’ office is looking into whether there were instances of “egregious conduct” before his death.

Services for Asher were set for 10 a.m. Saturday, and those attending were encouraged to wear shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, which his family said is how he would have wanted it.

—  John Wright