A 73-year-old Vietnam War veteran was choked, slammed to the ground, stomped and kicked in the head by a person who was allegedly a Department of Veterans Affairs employee at the Fort McPherson, Georgia, clinic, according to a security video released Tuesday by the VA.
In the video, veteran Phillip Webb is seen in a waiting room, engaged in a heated discussion with an employee who points his finger in Webb's face. When Webb smacks the finger away, the employee grabs Webb's hands, wrestles him across the room, chokes him, slams him to the ground, presses his foot onto Webb's neck and then kicks him in the head.
Lawrence Gaillard Jr., a patient advocate at the clinic, has been identified by the VA as the employee. He was arrested the day of the beating, April 28, and charged with felony assault.
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According to the initial charge sheet from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Georgia, Webb was treated by a doctor at the clinic for injuries that included a large hematoma near his right eye and scrapes on his elbow.
He was transferred to a civilian facility and hospitalized for three days for a "brain bleed," according to WSB-TV, the news outlet that reported the beating in May and obtained the video this week from the VA via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Webb told the station he was at the clinic for an appointment to discuss an upcoming hernia surgery. The incident began, he said, when he knocked on a door to tell Gaillard he was planning to leave the waiting area to use the restroom.
"He said, 'Man, I'll go upside your head.' I said, 'No, you won't,' [and] that's the last thing I remember," Webb told the station. "I'm still trying to figure out why he hit me."
The Atlanta VA Health Care System referred all questions to VA headquarters, which released a statement Tuesday saying the department was horrified by the video.
On Wednesday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough addressed the issue during a press conference in Washington, D.C., saying he had watched the video and found it "heartbreaking and so contrary to [the VA's] values."
"On behalf of VA, I apologize to that veteran and the veteran's family," McDonough said. "We are cooperating fully with the Fulton County criminal investigation."
McDonough did not say whether Gaillard remains employed at the VA. He did say that any discipline will be handled by the Atlanta VA's leadership team and emphasized that the behavior was "contrary to the VA's core values."
"This is not reflective of VA employees across the country at all," McDonough said. "During the course of the pandemic, VA professionals have put their lives at risk to care for veterans and non-veterans, and I’m very proud of that."
Gaillard was released on $10,000 bond, but the case has been referred to the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, which is now spearheading the case.
That office did not respond to a request for comment by publication.
In the past decade, the Atlanta VA has come under scrutiny for sporadic cases of patient abuse and deaths. In 2012, a suicidal patient died after he was left alone in a waiting room, managed to obtain drugs from a hospital visitor and overdose, while another patient injected himself with testosterone while wandering the campus of the main hospital for hours.
In 2019, a 74-year-old Air Force veteran received more than 100 bites from fire ants while he was bedridden at a nursing home facility at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.
VA officials later determined that hospital leadership knew the facility was infested and failed to stop the threat to residents and staff.
The department closed the building housing the facility after finding it was no longer "suitable for residential patient care," according to a media release at the time. Patients were transferred elsewhere as the Atlanta VA began plans to build a new facility elsewhere.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from VA Secretary Denis McDonough.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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