Iraq Vet Losing Battle to Keep Firefighter Job


ALBANY, N.Y. -- Jeffrey Wright has been battling to keep his job since 2010 when he was placed on medical leave by the city.

Wright, 36, was an Army Reserve staff sergeant who served in Iraq from February 2004 to March 2005 and became a firefighter in 2007. He was notified in writing last December by fire Chief Thomas Garrett that he was being targeted for termination. Wright said he has been undergoing treatment since 2009 for PTSD related to his combat service and has not worked since February 2010.

"I got a letter last week that I will be terminated Friday," Wright said. "They have tried to paint a very misleading picture of what's going on here."

The Times Union reported last month that Wright had recently received a letter from the department noting that action was being taken to end his employment.

"The city of Troy's records reflect that you have been continuously absent from the Troy Fire Department and unable to perform the duties of firefighter for more than one year by reason of a disability other than a disability resulting from an occupational injury or disease," Garrett wrote in the letter to Wright. "As permitted by Section 73 of the NYS Civil Service Law, it is the city's intention to terminate your employment."

Garrett declined further comment.

His attorney, Kevin Luibrand, was not immediately available for comment as to what the next course of action may be in the legal fight.

A decade ago Wright was lauded as a city parade marshal along with his father and two brothers, all of whom have served in the military. The four soldiers served as grand marshals of Troy's 2002 Uncle Sam parade.

"I've never had an incident on the job," Wright said. "There's never been an issue with my work."

He has, however, had personal troubles.

In May 2009 he was arrested in East Greenbush after a fight with his father-in-law. Wright said he pleaded guilty to harassment, a violation, but the charge was later dismissed. Additional charges also were dismissed.

He sought treatment for PTSD after the arrest, but the department declined to allow him to return to duty, he said.

In July, a physician at Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center wrote a letter that was provided to city officials and highlighted his history of treatment for PTSD at the hospital since May 2009.

Military records indicate Wright was in a combat theater in Iraq from February 2004 to March 2005 and, like many soldiers, was subjected to trauma of war that included witnessing the deaths of civilians and fellow soldiers. His convoy was hit by an explosive device and he suffered a concussion when he was thrown by the blast, according to an account of the incident listed in Wright's treatment records. Wright has a demolitions background and his duties in Iraq, he said, included guarding supply routes in hostile areas.

The Stratton VA doctor, at Wright's request, wrote the letter for city officials who were reviewing Garrett's request to fire him. The July 5 letter outlined Wright's concerns about a hostile work environment and his difficulties with Garrett.

Wright said his doctors have advised him to focus on his treatment and encouraged him not to return to work if it enhances his stress and anxiety.

Wright, who is married and has four sons, including a six-month-old, said he wants to return to his firefighter duties, although he acknowledges he struggles with anxiety related to both his military combat experiences and also Garrett's efforts to fire him.

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