To the Editor:
On February 15, 2023, Stamford will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the long overdue Veterans Resource Center at Old Town Hall. The City Administration touts this center as “a place for all Veterans and their families.” The Center is a seemingly noble cause to honor and provide resources for the members of our community who have made untold sacrifices.
The Stamford Fire Department has employed Veterans for generations. In fact, Veterans are given preference through the civil service hiring process, as an acknowledgment of their sacrifices.
Yet, on the dawn of the opening of the Veterans Resource Center, the way Stamford fire fighter Veterans are being treated, leaves much to question.
Recently, Fire Chief Trevor Roach terminated the employment of a disabled Veteran while he was in treatment for his disability, first suffered while actively serving the United States Army. Unfortunately, traumatic experiences are a part of being a Veteran and a professional fire fighter. A Stamford Fire Captain recently appeared on national television to detail the seriousness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders/ Injuries (PTSD/PTSI) and how it can potentially affect first responders.
This Veteran was unable to avoid the pitfalls of his service. During his 20+ years as a Stamford fire fighter, our Brother suffered traumatic exposures that contributed to his ongoing illness. He was clearly presenting behavioral signs and symptoms of PTSI and it was affecting his ability to perform his duties. In the interest of full transparency, this injury lead to a substance abuse problem, one that we readily agree could not be tolerated and needed to be addressed.
Thankfully, this Disabled Veteran had been granted an 80% disability rating from the military for PTSI. This rating allowed him to seek and receive the professional treatment he needed. With the help of the Stamford Professional Fire Fighters Association (SPFFA), he enrolled at an inpatient treatment center, specifically for fire fighters, to treat his substance abuse problem. Upon completion, this Veteran realized the care wasn’t enough, and re-entered the facility for a more intense, 6-month program.
The SPFFA shares the City’s view that public safety and public trust is paramount and we hold ourselves to the highest standard. The SPFFA was actively working with Human Resources on the terms of a Separation Agreement. It was at this time, while the Veteran was undergoing treatment, that Fire Chief Trevor Roach unilaterally made the decision to terminate him, rather than allow him to complete treatment and retire with dignity.
Moreover, the Veteran did not receive decent notification of his termination. He was emailed a termination notice to his City email address. Ironically, that email account was subsequently deleted from the City system prior to his being able to read the termination email. Ultimately, this Veteran learned of his termination from a 3rd party. Talk about adding fuel to the PTSI fire! Clearly our Veterans deserve better. Yet the City of Stamford, on the precipice of opening a Veterans Resource Center, one that will presumably have resources for PTSD/PTSI, somehow finds acceptance in their Fire Chief terminating the employment of a disabled military veteran and career fire fighter.
Anderson is President of Stamford Professional Fire Fighters, Local 786, International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO