by Robert Cubby
I watch now, helplessly, as my friend, Officer Jason Zangara, formerly of the West Palm Beach Police Department systematically loses everything near and dear to him. After he was terminated for failing to resume full duties as a police officer as the result of PTSD, he thought he was going to at least be awarded a disability pension. He was denied.
After the reports were reviewed from six separate doctors stating that Jason had chronic PTSD and was unable to continue as a police officer on full duty, the board decided, based on no discernible evidence medical or otherwise, that PTSD was “subjective and not creditable.” They denied benefits.
One would hope, at least, that when you present a case in front of a hearing board, that the board would make some effort to become familiar with PTSD. Try to make some effort of recognizing its impact on first responders, its prevalence in the ranks of police, the percentage of police estimated to have active PTSD symptoms. Make some effort, past it being subjective, meaning all in the mind of the sufferer and not creditable or believable. Those are the responses of someone simply not caring for the officer being reviewed.
To take that stance just takes a swipe at all those now suffering from PTSD. The vast numbers of returning soldiers actively being treated for PTSD must be a gigantic waste of time and money in this board’s estimation because it is subjective and not creditable. The very concept in the DSM IV must be mistaken and an exaggeration in this board’s view, and not subject to objective evaluation as it is obviously subjective in this board’s mind. The reported 15-25% of all police officers with PTSD must lack creditability in their viewpoint.
Jason, because of the callous disregard of his obvious disability, is now without any options. This is where I feel helpless. He will be evicted next month because he hasn’t been paid in over 20 months, and cannot pay the rent. With the eviction, he will lose custody of his son who is his whole world simply because he cannot provide for him or supply shelter. His electricity will be turned off. He has no benefits and cannot be treated for the symptoms he still suffers. He is truly at the end of his hope.
Is it any wonder then, when the system and our departments fail us, that in desperation and hopelessness, a first responder ends his life by suicide? Jason has, thankfully, a network of friends who are working frantically to keep his head above water and get him some assistance. His support from friends and family, and his love of his faith, will keep him and embrace him. But the feeling of helplessness cannot be ignored, and hope for the future needs to be restored. That hope was bruised and battered, but it wasn’t killed and buried.
But I know all too well how easily this can come unraveled, and that’s what worries me. How long can support and well wishes sustain a person before the harsh reality of his future crashes down on him? Changing directions in your life and seeking new employment, disregarding the profession you loved and dedicated your life to, is a stressful event. He will have to deal with a lot of decisions that will have an impact on not only him, but his beloved son, Bear. With friends and support, hopefully, he can get over these rough next few weeks.
Read Jason’s story in Law Enforcement Today here.
About the Author: Robert Cubby was born January 4, 1950. He attended Montclair State College (University) earning a BA degree in psychology. Shortly after graduation, Robert was sworn in as a police officer for the Jersey City Police Department. After attending the Police Academy, he was assigned to the patrol division. After seven years of working in two patrol districts, he was transferred to the Emergency Services Bureau where he was an instructor for the Police Academy. After 8 1/2 years, Robert was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the Property Unit. This was followed by assignments back in patrol as a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. As a lieutenant, Robert was deployed to assist in the efforts during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. As a captain, he was assigned out of title 50% of the time as an acting inspector/city commander. Captain Cubby retired from the Jersey City police Department in 2011 after 38 years, 4 months of service. As the result of his service to the department, he was diagnosed with PTSD and continues to struggle with it on a recurring basis. Robert also appeared in the film, Code9 Officer Needs Assistance.