Kurt Prenzler’s first act as Madison County Board chairman was to allow veterans’ advocate Brad Lavite back into the county administration building.
Lavite, who is the superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission, had been barred from entering the county administration building since March 2015, when he had a mental breakdown that his doctors attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder relating to his combat service.
Lavite was subsequently declared fit to return to work by the PTSD specialist at the St. Louis Veterans Administration Medical Center. But the psychologist employed by the county disagreed, and county leaders then barred Lavite from the building, where his office is located.
The Veterans Assistance Commission, which is an independent agency, sued the county to allow Lavite back in the building. The case was dismissed, but then reinstated by the 5th District Appellate Court and returned to Madison County. Madison County had filed a request for the VAC to submit to mediation over the issue. Meanwhile, Lavite has filed a separate federal lawsuit alleging that Madison County has violated his civil rights.
The Lavite case became an issue during the chairman’s campaign, with Dunstan in favor of requiring further assurances before allowing Lavite into his office, and Prenzler calling for the ban to be lifted.
On Monday, Lavite was permitted back in the building after 20 months, according to a statement Prenzler issued shortly before his official swearing-in. “It’s time we allow him back into the building,” Prenzler said.
The order forbidding Lavite from entering the building was not a restraining order from the court, but an administrative order from the county administration to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, which manages security for county buildings.
“The previous administration claimed this was about public safety, but the reality is it was about much more,” Prenzler said. “I feel those in charge at the time wanted to diminish his character and keep him quiet because he was questioning cuts to VAC funding.”
Lavite’s attorney, Thomas Burkart, said Lavite did not wish to draw attention to himself and would not give any public statements. He returned to his office shortly after noon Monday.
“Brad just wants to get back in his office with as little fanfare as possible,” Burkart said.
However, Burkart said Prenzler’s decision to lift the ban does not change the ongoing legal issues surrounding it. “The past administration still has to answer for their violations of Brad’s constitutional rights in the federal case,” Burkart said.
In addition, Burkart said issues remain in the original court case, which went before a judge brought in from another county last month regarding payments for the VAC’s legal bills. Judge Bill Becker of Clinton County ruled then that the VAC could not access its $700,000 surplus funds without County Board approval, and Burkart said the VAC would decide in the next few days whether or not to appeal that decision.
“Although I respect Judge Becker, I sincerely believe he made a major mistake and will be recommending the VAC appeal his ruling,” Burkart said. He has previously stated he believes the issues are not as much about Lavite himself or his attorneys’ fees, but clarifying the relationship between county governments and VAC boards in administering, running and paying for veterans’ assistance programs.
Lavite served as a major in the U.S. Army with two combat tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.