The Montana Department of Justice said this week it is investigating a former state trooper’s allegations that he was fired after seeking help to manage his post-traumatic stress disorder related to at work.
Zach Miller alleged in a wrongful discharge lawsuit filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court last week that he was fired from the Montana Highway Patrol in Polson in November 2021. Earlier this year- there, Miller had sought help for his PTSD and other mental health issues just two months after the state Justice Department launched an internal campaign encouraging soldiers to do so, according to the lawsuit.
Emilee Cantrell, spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, said in an email Monday that the department is reviewing Miller’s allegations.
“There’s no doubt that our Montana Highway Patrol soldiers have a tough, stressful and dangerous job,” Cantrell said. “We are investigating the allegations.”
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The Montana Department of Justice is the only defendant listed in the court filing; it does not specify from whom Miller sought mental health resources, or at what level of the agency the decision was made to terminate Miller’s employment.
Reached by phone Monday, Miller declined to comment.
According to the lawsuit, Miller was sworn into the state highway patrol in 2014, received numerous awards and recognitions for his service over the next seven years without discipline or reprimand before being fired. During that time, his duties included threatening cases, investigating gruesome fatalities and performing CPR on at least five people, including a 34-day-old baby who did not survive, according to the file. .
Miller’s later diagnoses included PTSD and other conditions that the lawsuit said were identified by doctors and mental health providers as a result of his work as a soldier. Those conditions deepened in 2021, the filing says.
In May 2021, the Justice Department launched a mental health awareness campaign described in Miller’s lawsuit as an encouragement to seek resources and help.
sergeant. Jay Nelson, spokesperson for the MHP, said on Tuesday the campaign included a series of emails from Col. Steve Lavin during Mental Health Awareness Month.
“Soldier welfare has always been a priority for the patrol, and we have a strong program to help soldiers who may be experiencing a mental health crisis,” Nelson said, including a peer support program.
According to a 2020 report by the US Department of Justice, 228 officers died by suicide, compared to a total of 135 deaths in all other deaths in the line of duty.
“This tells us that the most dangerous time for law enforcement officers is when they are off duty, at home,” the report from the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing said. “Agencies need to offer resources that will help improve the mental well-being of agents.”
Following this state awareness campaign, Miller met with supervisors at an undescribed level and briefed them on his diagnoses. Miller was placed on administrative leave, but declined a one-year leave.
State law requires the Highway Patrol to provide salary benefits for up to one year if a soldier goes on leave due to an injury. That section of the law mentions “an injury that requires medical or other treatment and renders the member unable to perform his duties,” and Miller’s lawsuit claims that supervisors denied him leave because the law does not apply. not mental disorders.
Instead, Miller alleges he was told he would be fired unless he resigned from highway patrol. Miller then filed for disability retirement with the Montana Public Employee Retirement Administration. That request was denied, according to the lawsuit.
Miller was fired in November 2021. At the time, according to the lawsuit, the soldier’s collective bargaining agreement had expired and the union had no new contract, so it had no grievance policy with which to exercise a appeal.
Miller asked a district court judge to award him damages for lost wages and benefits, as well as damages for physical and emotional distress. He also requested a court order preventing similar events from happening to soldiers in the future.
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