A veteran died of a stroke after Veterans Affairs police beat him because he refused to wait any longer for treatment at a VA hospital in California. Now his widow is suing the government over the brutality that led to his death.
Jonathan Montano had been at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Loma Linda, Calif. for four hours with a shunt (a needle apparatus) in his arm, awaiting dialysis. Tired of biding his time, he decided to head to a different VA hospital in Long Beach, and asked his wife Norma to get the car. But instead of allowing the patient to leave – with the shunt still in his arm so the Long Beach staff wouldn’t have to insert a new one – Loma Linda nurses called VA police, who beat him to keep him from leaving, Courthouse News Service reported, citing the lawsuit by Norma Montano.
“The summoned VA Police Department police officers then stopped Jonathan Montano from leaving the VA Hospital in Loma Linda, by tackling him to the floor, slamming his head on the floor, and kneeing and stomping on his neck, and otherwise brutalizing and restraining him,” the lawsuit said.
“This kneeing and stomping on his neck by the VA Police Department police officers caused the dissection of his carotid artery, that resulted in immediate (or very soon thereafter) blood clotting, which resulted in [his] suffering a stroke. Moreover, the brutalization of Jonathan Montano resulted in him suffering other serious physical injuries, and associated physical, mental and emotional pain, suffering and distress.”
Norma, who had been waiting in the car for her husband, went inside after he did not leave the hospital. There, she was told Jonathan had suffered a stroke and was in the emergency department. Upon arriving in the ER, a doctor told her Jonathan “had fallen down and suffered a stroke, an untrue statement,” she says in the complaint.
But later on, a nurse pulled Norma aside and told her what had really happened: that police had thrown her husband to the ground, that hospital staff were lying to her and that it wasn’t right what the VA cops had done, CNS reported.
The incident occurred on May 25, 2011, and Jonathan died of complications from the stroke two-and-a-half weeks later, on June 11. He was 65. The couple had been married for 44 years.
Norma and the couple’s son and daughter are suing the United States in federal court. They are seeking punitive and other damages for wrongful death, false imprisonment, constitutional violations, negligence, loss of consortium and intentional infliction of emotional distress, CNS said.
The suit comes at the same time the VA is under fire for the so-called “Veterangate” scandal. Earlier in May, a Veterans Affairs (VA) employee alleged that at least 40 patients died waiting for an appointment at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz. Several whistleblowers told reporters that, in an effort to salvage their own reputation, VA administrators mandated that thousands of patients’ names be moved to an unofficial waiting list. If those veterans died, the whistleblowers claimed, the names would simply be removed from the list quietly.
An agency report linked 23 deaths in multiple states to delayed treatment. Congress is investigating the agency, and many politicians have called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. President Barack Obama defended Shinseki last Wednesday. He has also asked deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to examine the allegations. An inspector general has also been assigned to look into the scandal.
Norma Montano’s lawsuit is different than the VA scandal, since she claims police brutality – not improper care – caused her husband’s death, but it could be seen as another instance of systemic problems throughout the agency dating back to the second term of President George W. Bush. Briefing documents obtained by the Washington Times through a Freedom of Information Act request state that inspector general audits dating back to 2005 uncovered problems. Nine recommendations total were given, but none were incorporated by the time Bush left office.
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