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Veteran seeks $500,000 from VA for therapist who wanted to marry him

By MAXINE BERNSTEIN | The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 5, 2018

A veteran who tried to shun his therapist's sexual advances is now suing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging that the federal agency is liable for the therapist's professional misconduct that included reporting her patient as dangerous in retaliation.

The suit seeks $500,000 in emotional damages.

Ami Diane Phillips, the licensed clinical social worker for the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Southwest Portland, was prosecuted in Multnomah County. She pleaded guilty to attempted coercion and initiating a false report and was sentenced in January 2017 to two days in jail, two years of probation, mental health counseling and 40 hours of community service.

Veteran Luke Kirk received mental health and therapeutic treatment at the Portland center.

Phillips, according to the suit, began hugging, kissing and physically touching him during his sessions, gave him her personal cellphone number and exchanged more than 4,000 personal text messages with him, according to the suit.

Phillips asked him to marry her and raise an adoptive child together, the suit says.

From mid-April 2016 until early June 2016, they had a personal relationship while Phillips continued to provide mental health treatment to Kirk, the suit says. Phillips tried to initiate sexual relations but Kirk refused, according to the suit.

"Plaintiff used her position and influence to induce plaintiff to agree to a personal relationship with plaintiff that ended only when Philips attempted to kill herself and/or plaintiff during a social outing to the beach,'' Kirk's lawyer Judy Snyder wrote in the suit.

When Kirk told Phillips that he was going to report her to the VA, she warned him that she'd tell the VA police he was dangerous.

On June 6, 2016, Kirk filed a complaint with the VA regional office in Portland, reporting his relationship with Phillips and her conduct. The same day, Phillips falsely reported to the VA police that Kirk had threatened to kill her and was extorting her for money. The false report prompted the VA medical center to shut down its mental health clinic for the rest of the day.

The hospital police went on high alert, waiting for the client to show up on June 8, 2016, according to the Multnomah County prosecutor who handled the Phillips' case.

Phillips was terminated and gave up her license as a social worker.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour declined comment on the pending litigation.

Kirk alleges the Department of Veterans Affairs is liable for Phillip's professional negligence. He said he suffered fear of prosecution, interference with any progress in therapy and loss of trust in other medical and mental health providers.

He is seeking $500,000 in damages for emotional distress, and $6,000 in economic damages to cover the costs of his move to California to be closer to family for emotional support.

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©2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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