The federal government is investigating the Medical University of South Carolina for an alleged civil rights violation after a veteran and former nursing school student reported she was expelled because administrators discriminated against her based on a disability.
Nicola Fiem, 31, of North Charleston, filed her complaint with the U.S. Department of Education last year.
She told The Post and Courier she was expelled from MUSC weeks before she was scheduled to graduate in May 2017.
Email correspondence provided by Fiem from the federal agency indicates an investigator is interviewing witnesses this month.
The department's Office of Civil Rights website confirms an investigation has been opened at MUSC. The federal government is currently looking into allegations at several other South Carolina schools, including the Charleston County School District. The website does not provide details about those investigations.
In a prepared statement, MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits her from discussing the case.
"We can offer our track record of actively engaging with military service veterans throughout the enterprise and through our partnership with the VA as evidence of our understanding of this population and their unique needs," Woolwine said.
Forty-five veterans and 16 active service members are enrolled at MUSC, she said.
Fiem, who has not filed a lawsuit against the school, said she was stationed with the Navy in Meridian, Miss., when she was sexually assaulted in 2009. She said her PTSD is related to that incident. Years later, Fiem said she attempted suicide.
She enrolled as a nursing student at MUSC in August 2015 and said she reported her disabled veteran status to school administrators. She said she suffered from concentration issues and qualified for extended testing time.
Over the course of several semesters, she said she was written up by school administrators for violating school policies and unprofessional behavior. She denies those allegations.
She also claims that an assistant dean said during her fourth semester that her PTSD and an "insufficient grieving process" related to the loss of her partner prevented Fiem from acting professionally.
Fiem made several allegations against MUSC, but the federal government is only investigating two of them, according to a document she provided to the newspaper.
Specifically, the government is investigating Fiem's claims that MUSC discriminated against her based on a disability when she was expelled and that MUSC's diversity officer failed to investigate a complaint she made in March 2017.
"My hope is that the school will see that there's a flaw," Fiem said. "And maybe something will be implemented to support a student who's in need. I want to be able to finish my degree."
Fiem estimated she's lost $80,000 in tuition, missed work and GI Bill compensation.
The Education Department's press office emphasized that an open investigation doesn't mean an institution is guilty of violating anyone's civil rights. It simply means someone made a complaint and the agency is looking into it.
If the agency finds an institution at fault, the federal government typically works with the school to implement a corrective plan of action, which may include new policies and training.