Gov­ern­ment pref­er­ence to hire ex-war­riors causes re­sent­ment by co-work­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

An Ira­nian-de­signed bomb on a route south of Bagh­dad shat­tered Pa­trick Han­ley’s arm, skull and life on March 29, 2008, send­ing the Army sol­dier to shift­ing ad­dresses on a gru­el­ing tour of mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals and men­tal health cen­ters that strive to make ser­vice mem­bers whole again.

Mirac­u­lously, four years later he walked into a new job as a civil­ian — with an un­filled left jacket sleeve af­fixed to a wool suit, his brain seep­ing fluid via a shunt to his spinal col­umn and stom­ach. Mr. Han­ley had been re­paired as best the mil­i­tary could do.

Of­fi­cially a wounded war­rior, he took a seat as a safety of­fi­cial at En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency headquarters in Wash­ing­ton.

He soon found out it was not the place for a hero’s wel­come.

Mr. Han­ley, now 40 and hon­or­ably dis­charged on 100 per­cent dis­abil­ity, said the of­fice’s millennials re­sented his war re­sume and the spe­cial ac­cess to fed­eral jobs the U.S. pro­vides re­turn­ing war vet­er­ans.

He learned their nick­name for him was “Lefty,” for his miss­ing arm. Another of­fice clique called him “Mr. PTSD,” for post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der — a men­tal syn­drome that haunts thou­sands of com­bat­ants.

“I was os­tra­cized,” he said. “Peo­ple made up sto­ries about me be­ing un­sta­ble.”

He said man­agers dis­re­garded his com­plaints. Then more trou­ble ar­rived. An of­fice worker com­plained to his su­per­vi­sor that, when Mr. Han­ley re­sponded to a mal­func­tion­ing el­e­va­tor and pos­si­ble in­jury, he did not ad­dress a wheel­chair-bound em­ployee in the proper way.

“When I learned of this,” he said, “I protested to my su­per­vi­sor, say­ing I was un­aware of a spe­cial protocol for speak­ing with peo­ple in wheel­chairs and pointed out that I had some ex­pe­ri­ence with peo­ple in wheel­chairs since I had been wheel­chair-bound for months my­self and had spent the pre­vi­ous four-plus years sur­rounded by wounded sol­diers in wheel­chairs.”

Adding to his non­wel­come: He later did re­search into per­son­nel pol­icy and dis­cov­ered he was un­fairly de­nied a pro­mo­tion and pay raise.

Vet­er­ans ad­vo­cates say Mr. Han­ley is not alone in fac­ing a some­times-hos­tile work­place in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

As one of his first acts as com­man­der in chief, Pres­i­dent Obama signed an or­der mak­ing it a top pri­or­ity for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to hire ex-war­riors. The pref­er­ence has caused some re­sent­ment.

Last spring, a House Com­mit­tee on Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs panel held a hear­ing on hir­ing pref­er­ences, where Richard Wei­d­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for pol­icy for Viet­nam Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica, said this: “We hear from some who were hired and quit af­ter a year or so be­cause they were ‘bored’ or ‘did not fit in.’ It seems clear to us that those who come straight from the mil­i­tary into the [fed­eral gov­ern­ment] need a men­tor, per­haps an older vet­eran, to start learn­ing to ne­go­ti­ate the cor­po­rate cul­ture and pro­ce­dures at that agency, as well as be­ing able to un­der­stand the feel­ings and at­ti­tudes of the newer vet­eran.”

Joe Davis, spokesman for the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars, said he has heard anec­dotes like Mr. Han­ley’s.

“Ig­no­rance and dis­re­spect have no place in any work­place any­where,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s just un­for­tu­nate that the mil­i­tary’s at­ti­tude ad­just­ment pro­ce­dures aren’t fol­lowed in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.”

Un­bro­ken

Mr. Han­ley’s re-en­try to civil­ian life in­cluded ex­chang­ing his res­i­dence at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­i­cal Cen­ter for a condo in Arlington, Virginia. The unit later in­cluded a res­cued mix-breed Labrador named Sable. Friendly and af­fec­tion­ate, Sable helped him as­sim­i­late with the ca­nine­happy pop­u­la­tion that rides Metro’s Orange Line and fre­quents the neigh­bor­hood’s trendy bars and restau­rants.

He is truly back home, hav­ing grown up in North­ern Virginia as part of a fam­ily of Democrats. His mother, Kather­ine Han­ley, chaired the Fairfax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors and worked in for­mer Gov. Tim Kaine’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

He trav­eled a jagged road back to Virginia. His story is one vignette in Amer­ica’s long war to oust Iraqi strong­man Sad­dam Hussein and put down an in­sur­gency at a cost of more than 4,400 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers’ lives. His strug­gle is a tes­ta­ment to the hu­man spirit and to the U.S. mil­i­tary’s com­mit­ment to put back to­gether a dam­aged body and mind.

Af­ter col­lege and var­i­ous civil­ian jobs, he joined the Army in Septem­ber 2005 at the rel­a­tively old age of 29 and went off to Fort Ben­ning, Gero­gia, to learn the in­fantry­man’s trade.

“I truly be­lieved we were at war af­ter 9/11, and Sad­dam, hav­ing been an en­emy be­fore, was aid­ing al Qaeda,” Mr. Han­ley said. “But now, af­ter hav­ing been in the Army and work­ing for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, I see how easy it is for peo­ple to lie and ma­nip­u­late the sys­tem to get what they want.”

Fort Ri­ley, Kansas, and the 1st In­fantry Di­vi­sion were next. Then the fa­mous Iraq troop surge. His unit — the 16th In­fantry Reg­i­ment “Rangers,” 4th Bri­gade Com­bat Team — found it­self in Fe­bru­ary 2007 pa­trolling Bagh­dad’s mean­est streets, where al Qaeda and Ira­nian-backed Shi­ites were aim­ing to kill Amer­i­cans.

Iran pro­vided ex­plo­sively formed pen­e­tra­tors (EFPs), which today the Pen­tagon es­ti­mates killed nearly 200 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers. Mr. Han­ley stands as one of the 861 they wounded.

On March 29, 2008, Mr. Han­ley’s two-ve­hi­cle con­voy had a choice of two routes. A lieu­tenant chose “Route Florida,” ac­cord­ing to a nar­ra­tion in the book “The Good Sol­diers,” by Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter David Finkel. The rea­son­ing: They had come in on the se­cond pos­si­ble exit. Florida would be un­ex­pected.

Mr. Finkel wrote: “‘All right,’ replied Han­ley, who was about to give his en­tire left arm to the cause of free­dom, as well as part of the left tem­po­ral lobe of his brain, which would leave him un­con­scious and nearly dead for five weeks, and with long-term mem­ory loss and dizzi­ness so se­vere that for the next eight months, he would throw up when­ever he moved his head, and weight loss that would take him from 203 pounds down to 128. ‘Let’s do it.’”

Mr. Han­ley sat in the front seat as the men ap­proached a light post that just hap­pened to hide the EFP. The ex­plo­sion killed two sol­diers and tore into Mr. Han­ley and one other sol­dier.

“Yeah. You could tell right away that it was se­vere head trauma be­cause of the way his eyes were rolled back in his head, and he was foam­ing at the mouth,” the lieu­tenant said of Mr. Han­ley’s grave wounds.

Mr. Han­ley pro­vided a post-blast chronol­ogy to The Wash­ing­ton Times. He cred­its a doc­tor as­signed to spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops with re­mov­ing parts of his skull to let a trau­ma­tized brain ex­pand and not rup­ture. He even­tu­ally would be able to think and cal­cu­late again thanks to that sur­geon.

His med­i­cal notes read like a tour of mil­i­tary med­i­cal posts: emer­gency cran­iotomy and am­pu­ta­tion, Balad, Iraq; treated for cere­bral menin­gi­tis, Bethesda Na­tional Naval Med­i­cal Cen­ter; re­gained con­scious­ness, May 2008; emer­gency flight back to Bethesda from re­hab­bing in Bos­ton to in­stall a shunt, fall 2008; ti­ta­nium shell in­stalled to close skull, spring 2009; sent to Wal­ter Reed Army Med­i­cal Cen­ter for phys­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, 2010; trans­ferred to De­fense-VA Brain In­jury Cen­ter for cog­ni­tive ther­apy; a med­i­cal board deemed him un­fit for duty due to psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions.

As Mr. Han­ley neared dis­charge in 2011, the me­dial board dis­pas­sion­ately listed the phys­i­cal ef­fects of the Iraq War, the ones he would carry to the EPA. The board noted with an X in a box that all the dam­age was post-re­cruit­ment: “Trau­matic brain in­jury, se­vere, with resid­ual cog­ni­tive deficits of at­ten­tion”; “High tran­shumeral am­pu­ta­tion”; “ver­tigo, fa­tigue, light and sound sen­si­tiv­i­ties”; “vis­ual im­pair­ment with hemi­anop­tic de­fect right eye”; “seizure dis­or­der.”

The Army awarded him a Pur­ple Heart and a Com­bat In­fantry­man Badge, among other medals. He is es­pe­cially proud of the Valor­ous Unit Award — the unit equiv­a­lent of an in­di­vid­ual Sil­ver Star — to the 16th In­fantry Reg­i­ment for “ex­tra­or­di­nary hero­ism,” as the ci­ta­tion reads.

He was of­fi­cially dis­charged in July 2102. His DD Form 214 reads that he was med­i­cally re­tired with the rank of staff sergeant and “dis­abil­ity, per­ma­nent (en­hanced).”

‘In­ac­tion’

That same month he showed up at a lo­ca­tion starkly dif­fer­ent from six years of bat­tle­fields and hos­pi­tals — the com­plex of con­crete and glass of­fices known as the Fed­eral Tri­an­gle, a place the EPA calls its “cam­pus.”

Mr. Han­ley’s mother, Kather­ine Han­ley, at­tributes her son’s re­mark­able re­cov­ery to “Pa­trick’s fierce de­ter­mi­na­tion, as well as his stub­born per­sis­tence in fight­ing to over­come his in­juries.”

“It has been truly amaz­ing,” Mrs. Han­ley said. “It’s been just in­cred­i­ble. And in do­ing that, he has re­fused to ac­cept ‘can’t’ ei­ther from him­self or from any­body else. He just de­cided he was go­ing to do these things. He was go­ing to do ad­just­ments and re­cov­ery and not let any­thing stand in [his] way.”

At one point Mr. Han­ley turned to fam­ily friends and fel­low Democrats and Vir­gini­ans: Mr. Kaine, now run­ning as the party’s vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, and Rep. Ger­ald E. Con­nolly. Both of­fices wrote letters to the EPA over Mr. Han­ley’s with­held ca­reer pro­mo­tions.

In an Aug. 4 email, a Con­nolly aide ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that the agency was not forth­com­ing.

“As I’ve con­veyed to you in the past, we con­tinue to be­lieve this case could have been han­dled more del­i­cately given Mr. Han­ley’s sta­tus as a ser­vice dis­abled vet­eran with lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence with the com­plex hu­man re­sources poli­cies of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” the aide wrote in one of nu­mer­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “Fur­ther, as you know well, the EPA and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment are ac­tively re­cruit­ing wounded war­riors into civil­ian ser­vice, and those ef­forts are un­der­mined when vet­er­ans ex­pe­ri­ence sit­u­a­tions like Mr. Han­ley’s.”

Pa­trick Han­ley re­tired on dis­abil­ity af­ter be­ing wounded in Iraq, only to face co-worker dis­crim­i­na­tion when he en­tered the fed­eral work­force.

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