Newtown responder with PTSD may be fired
The officer is "100 percent permanently disabled" after responding to the Sandy Hook school massacre and faces possible termination
NEWTOWN, Conn. — Eleven months later, Newtown Police Officer Thomas Bean remains unable to pick up a gun.
He still wakes up in the middle of the night crying, and otherwise innocuous events, like a trip to the grocery store or a family trip to Disneyworld, have precipitated panic attacks that had him racing for the nearest exit.
The flashbacks that came so frequently at first have abated, but he's still haunted by the images seared into his memory last Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"Obviously, I saw some of the most horrific sights you could imagine," he said in an interview with The News-Times Monday.
Now, facing termination because the trauma of that day has robbed him of his ability to work as a police officer, the 38-year-old married father of two is also feeling betrayed by the town and the department he served for a dozen years.
"I have nothing but love for the police department and the town, but we made a promise to protect and serve and uphold the law. We did our part, but they're not keeping their promise, which is very disappointing," Bean said.
Bean is now collecting half of his salary under the long-term disability policy negotiated between the police union and the town. Union officials say the contract calls for him to receive the payments until he is eligible for retirement, another 13 years.
But recently, Bean was given the choice of resigning, retiring with just a fraction of the money he would otherwise be entitled to, or being fired, because under the existing insurance policy, the disability payments will end after two years.
For Bean to collect the disability benefits specified in the contract, the town would have to pick up the approximately $350,000 balance until he can retire, according to union president Scott Ruszczyk.
"We think the contract is clear. He is entitled to long-term disability," union attorney Eric Brown said. "All (the town) had to do was buy the right insurance, but they decided to skimp on the policy."
Police Chief Michael Kehoe, who has recommended Bean's termination to the Police Commission, has previously declined to comment on the dispute. First Selectman Pat Llodra last week declined to comment on the case, saying the proper forum for any agreement is through negotiations with the town attorney.
`It was pretty horrific'
Bean was off-duty, burning off his remaining vacation time for the year, and was having breakfast with some friends from other police departments on Dec. 14 when they got word of the shooting.
They all raced to Sandy Hook. One of the other officers gave Bean a spare vest, another supplied him with a weapon. When they arrived at the school about 20 minutes after the gunfire ended, the scene was chaotic, he recalled.
"We went into the building and helped with the interior security while the people were evacuated. Obviously, it was pretty horrific," he said.
Bean spent the rest of the day working at the school and the nearby Sandy Hook firehouse, where many of the victims' families were gathered.
After leaving work in the early evening, Bean stopped at his parents' house, hugged and kissed his two sons, aged 8 and 9, then drove home, where his wife and some friends were waiting.
"That night I drank a lot," he said.
The next morning, Bean awoke feeling numb, and found himself standing with a razor blade pressed against his wrist.
"I wanted to cut myself, just to feel something," he said, "but I didn't."
Recognizing he needed help, Bean, who served in the Army Reserve, contacted a friend who worked with people suffering post traumatic stress disorder.
He began seeing a psychiatrist, and when his vacation leave expired at the end of the year, he went on short-term disability for six months, one of up to 15 Newtown officers who missed time from work because of trauma caused by the shooting.
By the time that expired, Bean had been diagnosed with PTSD, and would be unable to work as a police officer. That's when he started collecting long-term disability payments.
He also began participating in the Save A Warrior Project, a volunteer effort that counsels military veterans suffering from PTSD.
He was hoping to get a job with the organization, but the town refused to give him permission.
"As long as he is on long-term disability, he needs approval from the town to accept any outside employment," Ruszczyk said.
Even if he is eventually successful in retaining his disability payments, Bean said he is still going to need to work to support himself and his family.
"I can't completely heal and move on until I know what I can move into," Bean said. "It's almost like they want me to take another job so they can terminate me for violating policy and procedure. All because they didn't have the right insurance."
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