These pioneers in the torture rehabilitation movement founded the first program in the United States dedicated to treating torture survivors years before torture was legally defined. As refugees themselves, they understood the difficulties of dealing with trauma while simultaneously having to rebuild a support system of friends, family and employment.
In Chile, Dr. Quiroga was a personal physician to democratically elected president Salvador Allende. He watched from inside the government palace as soldiers went from room to room randomly selecting civilians to execute during General Pinochet’s brutal military coup backed by the United States in 1973. Dr. Quiroga was severely beaten and tortured, but thankfully his life was spared. Four years later, in 1977, he accepted a position at the UCLA School of Public Health and moved his family to the United States.
Meanwhile, Ms. Deutsch, a psychologist, had fled Argentina’s “Dirty War” in 1977 after those involved in opposition activities were threatened with arrest by the military dictatorship. The rest of her family arrived in the U.S. the following year, after they were released from prison. They had been kidnapped and tortured, like so many other victims of the military junta.
Dr. Quiroga and Ms. Deutsch met in Los Angeles in 1979. They began working on an aggressive campaign against torture with the Los Angeles Amnesty International Medical Group. The organization was conducting a study documenting cases of torture and the consequences for refugees and asylum-seekers in the United States. Dr. Quiroga assessed the medical consequences of torture while Ms. Deutsch assessed the victims’ psychological well-being. However, Amnesty International decided that they, as an organization, were unable to provide direct treatment to torture survivors.
Dr. Quiroga and Ms. Deutsch knew that the torture survivors with whom they had been working needed rehabilitation services and decided to start an independent program. And so, in 1980, North America’s first torture rehabilitation program was launched.
After the study by the Amnesty International Medical Group was completed, Dr. Quiroga presented it to the American Psychological Association. This was among the first research on the medical and psychological consequences of torture. Dr Quiroga and Ms. Deutsch quickly became known as experts treating victims of torture. It wasn’t until 1987, years after PTV began, that the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was enforced and torture was legally recognized and defined for the first time.
From the beginning, PTV established a multidisciplinary approach to rehabilitation of torture survivors that included medical, psychological, case management and legal services. Dr. Quiroga and Ms. Deutsch had begun to treat clients in local clinics and in their own homes. Partnering with organizations such as Clinica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero, El Rescate, CARECEN and Amanecer, PTV quickly became well known in the Central American refugee community. Dr. Quiroga, having already been a volunteer at Venice Family Clinic for years, formed a partnership in which he was able to use their facilities to see PTV patients.
In 1994, PTV received its first grant from the United Nations Voluntary Fund and was incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. Several years later, in 2000, PTV received a federal grant for $2 million over a four-year period, allowing PTV to add staff and relocate the administrative office from Ms. Deutsch’s home to Mercado La Paloma, near downtown Los Angeles. With paid staff and a central office, PTV was finally able to greatly expand its scope to include social service and peer support programs. Over the years, Dr. Quiroga and Ms. Deutsch have won numerous prestigious awards and have worked internationally in court cases, trainings and other avenues advocating against torture.
Both founders retired from PTV in 2014, after more than 34 years of service. They remain as important volunteers in our treatment team and also serve as advisers and trainers to PTV’s staff.
In 2015, PTV moved to a larger, more accessible office in Koreatown, just one block from the Metro. A new partnership with the USC Eisner Family Medical Center and the USC Keck Medical School allowed PTV to dramatically increase the capacity and scope of the PTV Human Rights Health Clinic. All survivors, regardless of medical insurance coverage, have access to a PTV primary care physician, a USC Keck Physician Resident, and specialty care.