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Reporter, VA clash over patient interview

  • Story Highlights
  • Reporter claims VA staff did not allow him to interview veteran at meeting
  • David Schultz says he handed over recording equipment, was told to leave
  • VA claims Schultz did not sign consent form for interviews
  • VA later agreed to give recording equipment back to Schultz
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A public radio station reporter was expected to get his memory card back Friday after it was seized by the Veteran Affairs Department when he tried to interview a veteran.

David Schultz of American University's WAMU-FM told CNN he attended a VA town hall meeting Tuesday for minority veterans held at a Washington VA hospital.

Schultz said that he heard a veteran speak during the meeting and asked him to talk in the hallway. Once there, he said, a VA public affairs officer, whom he would not name, interrupted, saying the interview was illegal.

"I said, 'He's an adult and I had a right to do this,'" Schultz said. "She came back with four police officers."

The "cops" demanded that he turn over his tape, Schultz said. The public affairs officer, angered when another veteran offered Schultz his phone number, demanded that Schultz hand over all his equipment or "I'm going to get ugly," he said.

Schultz called his editor, who told him "to give them the sound card and get out of there."

Schultz said he handed over the sound card and returned to the meeting, only to be told to leave or face prosecution. He later left the building.

"This whole incident was completely out of nowhere," Schultz told CNN. "I've been a professional journalist for three years. I've never seen anything like this."

VA press secretary Katie Roberts acknowledged the incident, which took place on Wednesday, but her details differed from Schultz's account.

Roberts told CNN that Schultz became hostile when the public affairs officer tried to explain to him that participants in interviews conducted inside a VA hospital must sign a form.

"The PAO wanted to take him aside and give him the paperwork and explain the policy to him," Roberts said. "The form says that the patient understands that they will have a dialogue and that information will be available to the public. He refused to fill out the paperwork and got upset. He was very hostile. The PAO called security to help assist."

Roberts said the patient in question was "confused and didn't know he (Schultz) was a reporter" and that they required the form for moral and legal reasons.

"It can be a sensitive issue," she said. "All we were doing was to try to protect the patient."

Roberts also said that Schultz refused to sign in when he arrived at the meeting, which was open to the press. Several other members of the media attended and signed in, she said.

In the end, the VA agreed to give Schultz's memory card back.

"What's most important is that we've been able to come to a resolution, and we've talked to the radio station and worked everything out, and we were able to protect the patient," she said. "We've worked it all out with WAMU and the tape is being returned."

However, Jim Asendio, WAMU's news director, wasn't nearly so conciliatory. Reached as he was on his way Friday night to pick up the card, Asendio said the VA initially wanted the station to pledge that it wouldn't use any of the material on the card without a release from the patient.

"We refused, since we spoke to the vet on the phone the next day," Asendio said. "They wanted to get you guys off their back by tonight, so they agreed to give back the drive without precondition."

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