Disabled soldier feels abandoned by Army
July 22, 2007
Related story:Veterans, advocates: Army shortchanges on disabilities
HEIDELBERG, Germany – If you’re a soldier reporting to Special Forces Assessment and Selection, “You should be at 100 percent physical ability with zero percent stress level,” the Army says.
Sgt. Archie Hennessey was.
He had trained for months before going on temporary duty from the Heidelberg Military Intelligence Detachment, 2nd MI Battalion, 66th MI Group, to the monthlong selection program at Fort Bragg, N.C., in September and was ready for the challenge.
“I could put 70 pounds on my back and run for 20 miles,” he said. “I could pick up [my daughter] with one arm and my wife with the other.”
But a week or so into the course, an accident changed everything.
Hennessey and other soldiers were ordered to hoist thousands of pounds of rebar from a construction site onto their shoulders and clear it away.
“Finally, we get it lifted up,” Hennessey recalled. “I was the third guy on it. The first guy tripped. I tried to hold it up, and it sort of crushed me.”
Hennessey stayed at Fort Bragg four more days.
“At that point, I needed help getting up. I didn’t have control of my bladder,” he said.
As bad as that sounds, it was just the beginning of a health decline that’s changed Hennessey’s body, his sense of himself and his future.
Hennessey, 34, not only won’t become a Special Forces medic as he had planned, but he’s also soon to become a civilian with what he says is chronic back pain and disability. He’s made a dozen trips to the emergency room in past months, needs a cane to get around and takes handfuls of painkillers daily.
“Sometimes I can walk, but sometimes I can’t get out of bed,” Hennessey said. “My leg will just give out. The pain gets to me. It does.”
Worst of all, he said, is what he views as the Army’s abandonment of him: a classification that he’s just 10 percent disabled, entitling him to a medical discharge and severance pay of about $10,000.
“I guess I’m just dumbfounded,” he said. “ ‘Here’s 10 percent. Get out of the Army.’ ”
Hennessey’s medical records say he suffers from “lumbar neuritis,” or inflamed nerve tissues in the low back as a result of the injury that he says is debilitating.
But an Army Physical Evaluation Board in Washington, D.C., this month decided that while he was unfit for duty because of the injury and should be discharged, his disability rating was 10 percent. That meant he would receive severance pay calculated on his base pay and three years’ active-duty service.
Hennessey said an official told him, “ ‘You’ve only invested three years in the Army. What do you expect them to do?’ ”
“I said, ‘I expect them to do what’s right.’ I said, ‘What about me not being able to walk sometimes, not being able to work?’ ”
His commander, Capt. Darren A. Spaulding, wrote in a letter to the Physical Evaluation Board that, prior to the injury, “Sgt. Hennessey’s performance was superb. But now, Sgt. Hennessey experiences continuous pain during the day.”
If Hennessey had been classified as 30 percent disabled, he’d have received much more compensation. Thirty percent is the threshold for troops with less than 20 years of service to receive retirement disability pay and the other military benefits that come with it.
“If you receive 30 percent or higher, you get a disability check for the rest of your life,” said Maj. Orlando Rummans, patient administration chief for the Europe Regional Medical Command, Command Surgeon.
Hennessey said the most important thing for him would have been health-care benefits for him and his family.
“I feel like I’ve done every single thing that’s been asked of me. You expect them to take care of you,” Hennessey said. “But then it turns out, it’s a business.”
Hennessey is appealing his rating at a formal Physical Evaluation Board in Washington on July 30.