“Support Our Servicemen and Women.” That’s one sign you’re not likely to see at Sutter Health, a San Francisco hospital chain. Sutter Health has fired a highly decorated combat military nurse who has treated and helped evacuate hundreds of wounded soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Bosnia. Her military awards include more than 20 medals and commendations. And the way in which Lt. Col. Debra Muhl was terminated should make every American’s blood boil.

When her supervisor, Dr. Richard Gray, learned that Muhl was assigned yet another tour of duty, he called her into his office and announced angrily, “You had news for me on Tuesday (that she was going back to Iraq), now I have news for you. You will not have a job when you return from the desert.” Muhl anticipated that Gray would not be happy with her deployment back to Iraq, but this? In fact Dr. Gray is said to have instructed her to file a complaint with Congress, seeking to get out of the military! Is this a summer soldier and sunshine patriot or what?

Lt. Col. Muhl, as you might expect, has hired an attorney to protest her firing, especially since the action violates the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which is intended to protect the civilian jobs of people serving in the reserves and National Guard. Her lawsuit is intended to protect not only her own job, but serve as an injunction to prevent future violations.

Sutter Health is no stranger to the courtroom and diverse lawsuits. In fact, an organization called Sutter Corporate Watch has been formed to educate patients, elected officials, and healthcare authorities about Sutter Health. Its website begins: “Sutter Health’s high prices, predatory treatment of uninsured patients and its charity care have recently brought much attention to the company.” The site then goes on to recite a litany of class action suits covering everything from price-gouging and elder care abuse, to a Department of Justice inquiry about contracting issues. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is also looking at Sutter Health concerning its tax-exempt status.

But back to the issue at hand: At age 56, Lt. Col. Muhl faces the infamy of being fired as administrative director of Sutter’s joint cardiac program at three hospitals, plus she must handle the time and expense that go with the filing of any lawsuit. Then there is the matter of attending to these legal matters while she is responding to multiple tours of duty, as are more and more reserve units.

What the empty suits (surgical gowns) at Sutter Health hadn’t counted on was Muhl’s deployment two years ago to Balad Air Base in Iraq, where she was one of the nurses who attended to ABC newsman Bob Woodruff when he was grievously wounded by a roadside bomb. Not surprisingly, the ABC Television news team has taken a vested interest in Muhl’s plight. Go get ‘em guys!

– Chase.Hamil

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