A Newtown, Conn., police officer who was a first responder to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting on his day off says he is unable to return to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder and is in danger of being fired.
Thomas Bean says he has been suffering PTSD since the horrific Dec. 14 shooting, in which 26 people were killed, including 20 children. Bean appeared on the TODAY show this morning with the Newtown Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk and union attorney Eric Brown of Waterbury, Conn.
"I can't describe the overwhelming senses of emotions that I had," Bean said, describing the massacre's aftermath. "That night I drank a lot. The next day I wanted to cut myself. I just felt so numb."
Even with PTSD therapy, Bean says, he still has flashbacks of the horrific scene. He entered one of the classrooms and witnessed the slain victims. "My wife tells me I was crying in my sleep."
Up to 15 officers missed some time at work because of PTSD-related disorders, according to the union. Of those who responded to the scene, Bean is the only one who has not yet returned to duty.
Unfit to return
Bean says his doctor has told him he is unfit to return to the force. The city's insurance covers only two years of benefits, while Bean is currently 12 years or so away from full retirement, according to the union.
In Bean's case, the insurance gap puts the city on the line for about $350,000, according to the NewsTimes.com. Bean says other officers are also affected but afraid to speak up because of potential repercussions. According to the Hartford Courant, which broke the story, Bean's doctor provided a two-sentence letter stating Bean is 100 percent disabled.
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe sent Bean a letter in the summer notifying him that "termination of your employment with the Newtown Police Department is warranted and will be my recommendation to the Newtown Police Commission."
Attorney Brown says the town has offered Bean retirement, disability retirement or resignation, but none of these options would leave him financially whole. The fourth option, which his client is pursuing, is a disability benefit as outlined in the police contract, Brown told TODAY.
"I'm hoping that the town's going to keep a promise they made to us. They promised all the police officers if we do our job and something happens they're going to take care of us," Officer Bean told TODAY reporter Savannah Guthrie.
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, according to the union. Bean, who is currently receiving the long-term disability payments, is getting half of his regular salary.
Kehoe declined to comment to NBC News about the case and did not return a call from AOL Jobs.
Union attorney Brown told AOL Jobs at least one other officer has told him he doesn't know how much longer he can go on working. Brown said it can take up to two years for the effects of PTSD to manifest.
This is the first time the town has ever had to access its disability insurance policy to such an extent, Brown told AOL Jobs, and upon learning of the two-year limitation officials said the existing police contract "doesn't mean what it says."
When Bean's benefits expire, Brown said, the next step will be to file a grievance. He said the officer did not actively seek publicity. After the story broke in the Courant, the media frenzy began.