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Soldier Who Shot at Police, Firefighters Now Eligible for VA Benefits

A photo of Joshua Eisenhauer posted to a group called "Save our Soldiers." Screengrab of www.facebook.com/savingjosheisenhauer
A photo of Joshua Eisenhauer posted to a group called "Save our Soldiers." Screengrab of www.facebook.com/savingjosheisenhauer

Joshua Eisenhauer is a civilian now, a veteran eligible for health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The former Fort Bragg staff sergeant -- who shot at police and firefighters from his Fayetteville apartment in January 2012 -- was released from the Army in late February on a general discharge under honorable conditions, said his mother, Dawn Erickson.

The designation ensures that Eisenhauer, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is eligible for VA benefits.

But Eisenhauer won't receive those benefits while he is in a North Carolina prison. Eisenhauer was sentenced in August to between 10 and 18 years behind bars after pleading guilty in February 2015 to shooting at the police and firefighters from his Austin Creek apartment.

Eisenhauer contends that he had a flashback to his days of Army combat duty in Afghanistan and didn't understand what he was doing. No one other than Eisenhauer was seriously injured.

Today, he is in the Pender Correctional Institution. Family members say the prison isn't adequately treating his PTSD or a traumatic brain injury, an opinion disputed by the state's prison system.

Family members say Eisenhauer is in an open room with 30 other prisoners and allowed to see a social worker only about once every two months. The prison abuts a shooting range, and the continual noise worsens his PTSD, they say.

Prisons spokesman Keith Acree said the N.C. Division of Prisons evaluated Eisenhauer's placement in Pender and determined that it provides him "excellent access to psychological and psychiatric services."

"Pender is served by a resident psychology staff and a psychiatrist who trained in the VA health care system on PTSD in the veteran population," Acree said in an email.

Acree said he could not discuss specifics of Eisenhauer's mental health or care. But he said "Eisenhauer is doing very well in his placement at Pender. He remains infraction free and works in a maintenance position."

Acree acknowledged that a firearms training range is outside the prison walls, but he said Eisenhauer has not complained about noise. Many of the state's prisons have gun ranges nearby, he said.

Eisenhauer's family, with support from the Fayetteville Quaker House, has scheduled a vigil for April 11 to bring attention to mental health care for incarcerated veterans, who make up about 10 percent of the country's prison population. The vigil is set to begin at 5 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

Increasing public awareness of the issue "seems to be a real hard sell," said Jim Springer, Eisenhauer's stepfather. "There are a lot of soldiers that have just been thrown under the bus, and that continues when they get into the VA system, if they even do."

The family wants America's jails and prisons to screen veterans upon entry for mental conditions such as PTSD that are related to their military service.

"Incarcerated service members and veterans with PTSD and TBI must receive the mental health care that they so desperately need," a flier for the vigil reads. "Our service members and veterans deserve to have a chance to heal from the wounds of the wars they fought for our country. By not receiving adequate mental health care, these wounded warriors too often end up living tortured and traumatic lives in prison."

Acree said the prison system screens all prisoners for mental health problems upon admission.

While the family fights the prison system, Eisenhauer continues to fight his case in court. In October, Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons volunteered to let another judge hear a motion for appropriate relief filed by Eisenhauer's lawyer, Larry McGlothlin.

Among other things, McGlothlin argues that Ammons had not fully briefed himself on Eisenhauer's case before it was laid out before him during about four hours of testimony on Aug. 6. Ammons denies the accusation.

A judge has not yet been appointed to hear the motion, said Ellen Hancox, the county's trial court administrator.

The family is also upset that Eisenhauer's rank has been reduced from staff sergeant to private E-1. Under Army regulations, rank reductions are mandatory for soldiers who serve significant prison time.

"We're just all sad that military law seems to have rules for length of time imprisoned that include rank reduction," Eisenhauer's mother said in an email. "Josh's rank and the Army mean a lot to him. We hope he can get his rank back in the future."

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This article was written by Greg Barnes from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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