An internal probe is under way after an officer was accused of assaulting a suicidal patient last week at Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
A 29-year-old man was having a suicidal crisis Wednesday about 3:30 a.m. when he brought his golden retriever, an emotional support companion dog, to the VA hospital on instructions from a doctor, according to a written account from a hospital nurse.The nurse alleges the officer, one of two security workers on the early morning shift, provoked the fight after repeatedly citing a law that bars all pets but seeing-eye dogs from federal buildings.
But hospital spokesman Ted Baxter said the nurse's account, from a confidential medical document called a report of contact, only represents one side of what happened at the hospital.
"There are multiple views and issues here," Baxter said about the incident. "I can't comment on what I haven't seen, but there are at least three versions to this story.
"There is also the officer's account, and a version from the perspective of another administrative employee as well."
VA police supervisor Harvey Walker declined comment.
The Desert Storm veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to medical records. The officer confronted him in a waiting room, insisting the dog leave, according to the nurse's report.
The nurse said she stepped in, trying to explain that a doctor had instructed staff to accommodate the dog because the animal provides emotional support.
The officer allegedly said he didn't care and that "Either the dog goes outside or I'll take it out."
The nurse said the emergency room had no other patients present and the dog was clean and well-behaved, according to the report.
Officers pushed the patient away, and a fight erupted. The man screamed as he was thrown against a wall and pushed into a chair. While one officer pinned the cursing patient to the chair, another officer took the dog outside.
After the nurse assured the man she would check on his dog, he calmed down but started crying.
"A lot of us don't come here for help because of the police," the patient said as he left the hospital.
But Baxter said an investigative board has been set up "to investigate all the facts, because we put tremendous energy in accommodating the veterans."
"We're very proactively making this a priority," he said.
A current hospital policy that permits only seeing-eye dogs has been under review and possible change since April, as officials are becoming cognizant of the importance of using animals other than for the blind, Baxter said.
"We recognize that this might change," he said. "I think it's fair to say we are aware of the trend not only here but nationwide regarding service animals and purpose animals.
"It's a complex issue," he added, "but we've got a team of physicians and other control experts with us to draft a policy that will be as responsible to patients who use service animals as to patients who require special treatment, like zero contaminant air intake."