Former Beckley VA Medical Center doctor pleads guilty to civil rights charges

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WASHINGTON (WOWK)— A doctor of osteopathic medicine pleaded guilty to three counts of depriving veterans of their civil rights under color of law by sexually abusing them, according to the United States Department of Justice.

Jonathan Yates, 51 of Bluefield, Virginia, who formerly worked at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia, was previously indicted on five counts of depriving veterans of their civil rights under color of law and two counts of abusive sexual contact, the U.S. Department of Justice says.

“This doctor abused his position of trust by preying on veterans who came to him for medical treatment,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.  “As this prosecution demonstrates, he will now be held accountable for using his position as a VA physician to deceive and molest his patients.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Yates admitted at the change of plea hearing today that he rubbed the genitals of two veterans, and digitally penetrated a third veteran’s rectum under the guise of legitimate medicine when he acted without a legitimate medical purpose.  

“By virtue of today’s plea agreement, Yates stands convicted of heinous criminal acts committed against military veterans who served our country honorably and with great sacrifice,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart for the Southern District of West Virginia. “Throughout this matter, from the commencement of this investigation to today’s plea, our focus has been on seeking justice for these veterans by holding Yates accountable for these terrible acts.”

The alleged conduct, performed while Yates was acting under color of law in his capacity as a VA physician and a federal employee, deprived the veterans of their constitutional right to bodily integrity and caused them pain, the U.S. Department of Justice says. According to the plea documents, the veterans had sought treatment from Yates to manage chronic pain through osteopathic manipulative therapy.   

“What occurred at the Beckley VA Medical Center is particularly despicable because this abuse was at the hands of a doctor who was entrusted with providing compassionate and supportive care to veterans,” said VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal.  “The result today was due to the tireless and dedicated efforts of the VA OIG investigators and our law enforcement partners. This doctor will no longer be able to prey on the trust of those who have dedicated their lives in service to our nation.”

“Today’s hearing is an important step towards justice for those Veterans who were sexually assaulted by Dr. Johnathan Yates during their visits to the Beckley VAMC. My heart goes out to those affected by his disgusting actions and I hope him pleading guilty brings peace of mind and some sense of closure to our Veterans, their families, and loved ones. It is unacceptable that these atrocious actions ever occurred. Our Veterans deserve world-class healthcare and should never have to question their safety with a healthcare provider.

US Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Yates is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 4, 2021 and faces a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

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