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Disgraced VA doctor who immobilized veteran patients so he could molest them gets 25 years in prison

Courtroom and gavel. (Joe Gratz/Flickr)

A former doctor at a Veteran Affairs hospital in West Virginia was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison Monday for molesting several male patients, including two who were immobilized during the abuse.

Jonathan Yates, 52, admitted rubbing the genitals of two veterans and digitally penetrating the rectum of a third victim “under the guise of legitimate medicine” while “in fact he acted without a legitimate medical purpose,” according to plea documents cited by the Justice Department.

The disturbing abuse happened between September 2018 and February 2019 while Yates worked at the VA Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia. He practiced osteopathic medicine, which involves a hands-on approach to treating illnesses and injuries.

Yates, who has agreed to surrender his medical license, was indicted in May 2020 and pleaded guilty in September to three felony counts of deprivation of rights. The indictment originally accused the Virginia resident of sexually abusing six patients, but some of the allegations were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

The disgraced doctor was accused of temporarily immobilizing at least two veterans — one by cracking his neck and the other with the use of acupuncture needles — before sexually molesting them while they were incapacitated, according to the indictment.

The document also described inappropriate comments that Yates allegedly made to his patients. In one instance, the doctor told a veteran to remove his jeans and then said, “Boxer briefs: my favorite,” the affidavit claimed. The doctor also called the 42-year-old Army veteran “a real man” after seeing his chest hair, authorities said.

“The sentence today reflects the seriousness of this defendant’s misconduct,” said Gregory Friel, deputy assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

“In a despicable betrayal of his oath, he used his specialized medical knowledge and expertise to sexually abuse his own patients,” Friel said in a statement. “He has now been held accountable. It is a testament to the bravery of our veterans that so many came forward to bring this defendant to justice.”

The victims had gone to Yates for help with their chronic pain, authorities said. Several of them addressed the court at sentencing Monday, “describing the trauma and mental anguish that Yates had caused them,” according to prosecutors. Other victims whose cases were described in last year’s affidavit reported suffering unspecified bodily injury.

Yates’ attorney did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Michael Stuart, of the Southern District of West Virginia, thanked the victims and their families for their “unwavering support” during the prosecution of the case.

“Military veterans who serve and sacrifice to protect our nation deserve only the best of care,” Stuart said in a statement Monday. “Today, Yates has been called to account for his heinous acts. While his prison sentence will not undo the significant harm Yates inflicted on the victims, we hope that it will ease their pain.”

Yates’ 300-month prison sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release.

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