Ex-soldier deals with post military problems

The Army was going to be a second career for Gary Connellis.Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the New York City Police Department. He spent 17 years there.Connellis, 39, who now lives in Leavenworth, lost some friends in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Despite his desire to join the Army immediately, his wife was about to have a baby. He waited until his daughter was 5 before enlisting.”It took a lot of running and getting back into shape,” Connellis said.His Army career turned out to be a short one though, the aftermath of which he will be dealing with the rest of his life.While on special assignment in 2006, Connellis was wounded by a roadside bomb. He can’t say what that assignment was or where he was, but he does say he was not in Iraq or Afghanistan.He joined the Army in 2005. He was honorably discharged with disabilities in July 2007. He has a long list of injuries – physical and mental – stemming from that explosion. After filing for disability payments from the U.S. Deptartment of Veterans Affairs, Connellis was determined to be suffering a 30 percent disability: The lower the percentage the lower his disability payments.Since he initially filed some of his claims Connellis found information in his Army medical records that he didn’t know about and which were not passed on to the VA. That includes one record showing he had a herniated disk in his lower back. The Army never treated him for that, despite frequent trips to Army doctors about the back pain, he said. He also found out he has asthma, something else the Army never told him about or treated him for, he said.Connellis has appealed and is seeking a 100 percent disability declaration from the VA. The appeals were filed months ago and he is still awaiting a ruling.During the appeals process Connellis has had to deal with severe back pain. He walks with a cane when he can walk at all. Next month he will finally see a surgeon about his back. He is getting treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There have been multiple frustrations in dealing with the VA and military bureaucracies, he said. Not all of it had to do with the injuries.In future blogs we will go into more detail about what Connellis has gone through and post updates about his condition and experiences. He has had help along the way from a representative of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., and recently enlisted the help of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.”It’s ridiculous,” Connellis said. “I know there are others going through this. I know I have to be patient.”Here is the list of injuries and medical problems that have plagued Connellis since the explosion: a herniated disk and compressed nerve in his back; bursitis in his right knee; two types of arthritis including one in his spinal cord; multiple stress fractures in his right shin, ankle and both feet; PTSD, anxiety attacks; and periodic skin and staph infections.We want to know about people in the military from the Douglas County area. Where are they deployed? When will they be coming back? What are their experiences? If you are currently in the military from this area and want to communicate with us, that’s fine, too. Please send me an e-mail.