Newtown officer with PTSD: Town promised 'to take care of us'
By Eun Kyung Kim, TODAY
(NBC) - A Connecticut police officer likely to get fired for failing to return to work since responding to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School said his employer must keep its promise to take care of him while he battles post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I'm hoping that the town's going to keep a promise that they made to us," Newtown officer Thomas Bean told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie. "They promised us – all of us, all the police officers – that if we do our job, and something happens, they're going to take care of us. And they're not holding up their word and that's all we want them to do, for myself and for anybody else that this is going to happen to."
Bean was on his day off when he was one of the first to respond to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook, where 20 students and six female school staff workers were gunned down. He said the gruesome images he witnessed at the scene left him so traumatized that he hasn't returned to work since that horrific day.
"I can't describe the overwhelming senses of emotions that I had," Bean said. "That night I drank a lot. The next day, I wanted to cut myself because I just felt so numb."
A friend who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder helped Bean get into therapy, but he still had problems adjusting to life.
"I still wasn't able to sleep. My wife tells me I was crying in my sleep. I have unexplained outbursts, flashbacks," Bean said, adding that he often has a video loop in his mind replaying the mass shooting. His doctor has recommended that he not return to work, he said.
Bean was one of at least 15 Newtown, Conn., police officers who have missed work because of PTSD, but he is the only one who has yet to return to work.
In August, Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe sent Bean a letter notifying him that "termination of your employment with the Newtown Police Department is warranted and will be my recommendation to the Newtown Police Commission."
The union contract that covers police says that officers are entitled to long-term disability payments until they reach retirement eligibility, which in Newtown is 25 years of service. Bean has roughly another 12 years to go before reaching that point.
The town's long-term disability insurance would cover only two years of payments to Bean. Once the town's insurance expires, taxpayers would be responsible for paying his salary until he retires, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Kehoe declined to comment to NBC News about the case.
Eric Brown, attorney for the Newtown Police Union, said Bean has very few options. If he retires early, he would only be eligible for reduced benefits. Bean is not eligible for disability retirement, and resigning from the police force would leave him financially destitute, he said.
"There were three very bad options," Brown said. "And the fourth option, which is the one the town should be pursuing, is to provide him with a disability benefit until his normal retirement date, just like they agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement."
Bean said he believes other police officers who have returned to work would like to file disability claims, too, but fear the repercussions of speaking up.
"I believe some of them are afraid of what's going on, so now they can't take care of themselves, because they're too worried about the financial, which is a huge burden," he said.