A national disability-rights group has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that the Fire Department illegally denied a former Marine a job because of a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that he received at the time of his honorable discharge from service in the Iraq war, approximately eight years earlier.
Disability Rights Advocates, a national nonprofit legal center, filed the discrimination charges last week on behalf of Julio Andrade, 30. DRA also alleges that veterans’ groups report that the FDNY is disqualifying veterans from Firefighter jobs without an individual evaluation of whether they are qualified.
Months to Respond
According to Maia Goodell, Senior Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, the city’s Corporation Counsel and the FDNY will have several months to respond to the complaint. The FDNY declined to comment because the matter was the subject of litigation.
“The law requires the FDNY to give veterans like Julio Andrade a fair evaluation of their ability to do the job,” Ms. Goodell said in a phone interview. “When we heard Julio’s story, we thought it might be more of a widespread issue.”
According to DRA, Mr. Andrade served in the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2009 and completed two tours in Iraq, including active combat duty. He was honorably discharged and was eligible for re-enlistment, despite having received the pre-discharge diagnosis.
“The final disqualification of Andrade, signed by the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer, included statements that demonstrate a rejection based on stereotypes of PTSD rather than an evaluation of his current mental health or capabilities,” according to a press release announcing the discrimination claim.
DRA maintains that the FDNY assessment was based on two 15-minute interviews that prompted a conclusion that his “history of PTSD does predispose him to relapse in a setting of firefighting.” The disability-advocacy group maintains that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their history of having a disability, as opposed to their current condition and capabilities as measured by an individual evaluation.
Wants Broad Remedy
The DRA is petitioning the EEOC to not only investigate the alleged discrimination against Mr. Andrade, but to review any other FDNY applicants who were similarly disqualified. “I care about my situation, but I also care about fixing the system for other veterans,” Mr. Andrade said in a statement.
Disability Rights Advocates is also awaiting a response to an August freedom-of-information request about the number of veterans disqualified from FDNY jobs because of PTSD in recent years.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11 percent of veterans returning from Afghanistan were diagnosed with PTSD. For Iraqi war veterans, it was 20 percent.