This week, an Army combat veteran gained a reprieve from a federal judge who ruled that the Michigan native need not report for duty in Texas for a job with the Department of Homeland Security. Sgt. Anthony Gazvoda served nine months and survived dozens of firefights in Afghanistan. "All I want is to be able to continue serving my country," said Gazvoda, 31, who is active in the Michigan National Guard. "I just can't do it in a place that constantly reminds me of where I was repeatedly shot at. I'm sorry about that -- I really am -- but I just can't be there."
Sgt. Gazvoda rescued a fellow soldier from the above vehicle, which was struck by an IED in Afghanistan.
Gazvoda, who was shot at hundreds of times and "blown up once" in an IED attack, claimed that his assignment to a hot desert-like environment in Laredo TX reminded him too much of Afghanistan. The judge issued a temporary injunction, giving Gazvoda and DHS 30 days to find a suitable job for him in his native Michigan. The army veteran served the DHS as a border guard in hot, dry Texas, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He claimed that it was too painful to work in the Longhorn State. He had discharged from the armed forces because of PTSD.
Gazvoda must now persuade the federal government that there is a suitable job for him outside of Texas, perhaps in Port Huron or Sault Ste. Marie MI. However, his attorney says that the government is resisting the move. "This young man has done everything his country has asked him to do. He went to war. He risked his life. ... Now, he is asking for the most basic of accommodations," said attorney Jason Turkish to the Detroit Free Press. His client is not requesting disability benefits or a monetary settlement. "He has said, 'I just want to continue to serve.' It's incredible. There's nothing more noble. And for the government to challenge that -- it's just laughable." The U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit is representing the government in this case.
Sgt. Gazvoda (R)
Government attorneys argue that Gazvoda has not exhausted his administrative remedies and that his request to avoid working along the Texas border is racially discriminatory. They claim that Gazvoda is uncomfortable working around non-Caucasians who do not speak English. The government argues that Gazvoda's request to be transferred elsewhere is unreasonable and that it "poses an undue hardship" on the Texas border guard post because of its significant staffing shortage. The feds want the case dismissed.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington denied that request, concluding that Gazvoda had presented enough evidence from doctors to proceed with his lawsuit. He noted that "there is troubling evidence" that Gazvoda is "made uncomfortable by non-Caucasians that speak languages other than English."
"But, at this stage, Gazvoda has provided sufficient evidence ... supported by treating doctors' professional opinions, to demonstrate that his mental condition is caused by the similarities between Laredo and his duty station in Afghanistan," Judge Ludington wrote. "These include the hot summers, the arid desert climate and dense urban areas."
Judge Ludington also noted that it was doctors who concluded that "the presence of dark-skinned individuals (who) spoke a foreign language aroused painful and unpleasant memories from when Gazvoda was deployed."
In 2009, Gazvoda served nine months in Afghanistan as a road clearance specialist. He went on point in troop columns to draw enemy fire. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for rescuing a soldier while under enemy fire.
After finishing leaving the army, he trained for the border patrol and was stationed in 2011 at a post in Texas. Soon, Gazvoda experienced sleep problems and panic attacks. He took unpaid administrative leave and moved to Michigan, where government doctors diagnosed him with PTSD and recommended that he be given a billet other than Texas.
In January of 2015, Gazvoda asked for a “compassionate transfer.” In November 2015, DHS denied his denied his request and warned he would be considered AWOL, threatening discipline or termination if he did not show up for work in Texas. Gazvoda did not report for work, and lawyered up instead.
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