May 17, 2007

Orthodox Jew Accuses VA Hospital Of Pushing Christianity

Orthodox Jew accuses VA hospital of pushing Christianity

By The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. Navy veteran David Miller, an Orthodox Jew, has accused chaplains and staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City of attempting to convert him to Christianity.

Miller, 46, of Iowa City, was treated for kidney stones during three hospitalizations over the past two years. He said he went hungry each time because the hospital wouldn't serve him kosher food, and the staff refused to contact his rabbi, who could have brought him something to eat.

"I am not trying to get rid of the chaplain corps," Miller said. "When I was in the Navy, I was a religious-program specialist. I worked with Christian chaplains, and I believe in the value of the chaplain corps, but not using it to bludgeon people, for heaven's sake."

Miller outlined his complaints at a news conference in Des Moines on May 10. It was sponsored by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an activist group based in Albuquerque, N.M.

Miller said the Iowa City veterans hospital was permeated by government sponsorship of fundamentalist Christianity and unconstitutional discrimination against Jews.

He said he had tried to resolve the problems with the hospital's administration without success.

Kirt Sickels, a spokesman for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, said administrators were looking into Miller's concerns.

"The Iowa City VA respects the rights to religious beliefs for every patient. If they have a request for any kind of religious needs, we try to accommodate whatever those needs or beliefs might be."

Sickels said it is standard practice within hospitals nationwide to conduct a spiritual assessment of each patient upon admission. Ministry and pastoral counseling are available, but "it is always the patient's right to decline any of these services."

Kosher meals are available to Jewish VA patients in Iowa City, Sickels said.

Michael Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said on May 10 that he was preparing to sue the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in federal court over Miller's treatment.

He said he suspects other veterans have been treated similarly and that Miller's case could become a class-action lawsuit.

"He has been in the situation where clearly his faith ... is the wrong faith for the Veterans Administration," Weinstein said.

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