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Haunted by the Newtown massacre, police officer faces firing over PTSD

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newtown police officer, haunted by tragedy, faces termination because of PTSD
  • Thomas Bean has contemplated suicide and continues to have flashbacks of the carnage
  • Newtown's police union may file a lawsuit against the city
  • State covers mental health if it's accompanied by physical injury, lawmaker says

By Ray Sanchez

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A Newtown, Connecticut, police officer haunted by the horrific images of the mass shooting at an elementary school there said Monday that he could lose his job after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

Thomas Bean, one of the first officers to respond to the December 14 shooting that left 26 dead, including 20 children, told CNN that he has contemplated suicide, continues to have flashbacks, and is left crying some nights by memories of the bloodshed.

"Nothing could prepare you for that," Bean, a 12-year veteran, told CNN's Susan Candiotti. "The worst possible scenes you could think of ... Because all there was, was horror."

Bean was diagnosed with PTSD and has not been able to return to work. Six months after the mass shooting, the officer -- who responded to the tragedy on his day off -- was placed on long-term disability, according to Bean and his union.

"That day killed me inside," he said.

A letter from the police department, obtained by CNN, confirmed that he was "permanently disabled" but said he could be fired because Newtown could only afford to pay two years of long-term disability. He has a dozen years left on the job before being able to retire.

The union that represents Newton police officers may file a lawsuit.

"The men and women of the Newtown Police Department who did respond that day did their job," said Scott Ruszczyk, the union president. "They lived up to their end of their contract. It's now time for the town to live up to their end."

Joe Aresimowicz, the House majority leader in the state General Assembly, said Connecticut covers mental health care only if the diagnosis is accompanied by physical injuries for long-term disability claims.

"We don't just cover mental injuries," he said. "The last thing you want is a first responder getting ready to enter a situation and have them think, 'I wonder what long-term harm this will do me?'"

In an e-mail, Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe declined to discuss the matter. Local officials did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Bean told CNN that he broke down in tears after Sandy Hook Elementary School was cleared. He drank and smoked excessively. He even contemplated cutting himself with a razor. "I didn't want to kill myself but I wanted to feel something," he said. "Had no feeling, no sensation, no nothing."

Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 20 young children and six teachers in the school before taking his own life -- a massacre that prompted a national debate over tougher gun laws.

Bean said he knew he was in "deep, deep trouble" after entering a store one day.

"I looked at everyone in that store like they was going to kill me," he said. "I could not get out of that store fast enough. I looked around, and there was a crowd of people, and all I saw were flashbacks -- (the) firehouse with the families or what I saw that day."

Officer Bean, 38, who's married with two children, remains in therapy said he is grateful for support from one group in particular called Save a Warrior. Bean urges others suffering from PTSD to seek help.

"The Save A Warrior program that I went through is free," he said. "We even had some law enforcement from LAPD and NYPD go through the program."

Other Newtown police officers were diagnosed with PSTD, but Bean was the only one unable to return to work, union officials said.

"If I had my arm chopped off, they'd would say, 'Oh yeah, he's hurt.' But instead they're like, 'We can sweep (this) under the rug and not necessarily have to pay because ... it's not physically seen.' That's the problem with PTSD ... people don't see it," said Bean, his voice trailing off.

The-CNN-Wire
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