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'They don't stand by me now'

Former Plymouth soldier disputes lack of benefits after illness.
http://www.southben dtribune. com/apps/ pbcs.dll/ article?AID= /20061226/ News01/612260368
IDA CHIPMAN, Tribune Correspondent

PLYMOUTH -- Bradley Brown seemed to be perfect for the Army. He was strong and athletic, having run track and played football and basketball at LaVille High School.

After his graduation in May 2004, his ambition was to serve his country.

He hoped to make it a career-long commitment. He would qualify for the G.I. Bill and when, honorably discharged, go into some form of law enforcement.

After a series of short factory jobs, Brown enlisted in the Army on Nov. 9, 2005.

"Being in wartime, it made me nervous," said his mom, Sheila Annis. "But I knew he always wanted to serve our country, and I supported him in his decision."

Brown passed the physicals in the MEP Center in Chicago with flying colors, she said.

Sent to Fort Sill, Okla., he trained with fellow soldiers doing the routine things -- marching with 100-pound backpacks and qualifying on obstacle courses.

On Dec. 3, 2005, Brown went to the Army doctor, complaining of severe back strain.

Brown said the doctor gave him an anti-inflammatory nonsteroid prescription for Naproxen and shot dye into his veins for radiographic (X-ray) studies.

The results had not come back by Dec. 8, 2005, when the troops went home on Christmas leave.

Brad was sick. He was dizzy, had hot flashes, pain and a sore throat.

On Dec. 19, his mother took him to the emergency room in the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, Plymouth, where he was initially diagnosed with a urinary infection and strep throat. He said he was given an I.V. with antibiotics and sent home.

By Christmas Eve, Brown was no better. Back at the hospital, a kidney infection was suspected, and he was hydrated with a stronger dose of meds, he said.

The blood vessels in his eyes ruptured. Back in the emergency room, the doctor on duty diagnosed Brown's condition as acute renal failure, as much as 75 percent."Where do you want to go?" the E.R. doctor asked him.

"What do you mean? Why?" Brown said.

"You're dying," the doctor replied.

Hours later that night, two days after Christmas, the young soldier was taken by ambulance to Indiana University Medical Center, Indianapolis. His fiancée, Lindsay Burnside, a junior at Saint Mary's College, rode in the ambulance with him. His mom followed behind.

The tissues in his body swelled. During the ride to the Indianapolis hospital, his blood pressure shot up to dangerous heights. Brown, heavily sedated with morphine, doesn't remember the first four days of his hospital stay, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 9. He was in complete kidney failure.

Dr. Richard Hellman, an IU kidney specialist, did a biopsy and has said Brown will need a kidney transplant.

He says he has some stuttering and short-term memory loss. Out of work for 11 months, he finally got a job last month with the Elkhart Correctional Facility.

'The Army broke him'

At home in Plymouth, Brown and his mom can't help but feel they've been betrayed by the Army.

They say the Army ruined his kidneys and, even worse, has turned its back on him.

"The Army broke him -- my 20-year-old- son -- threw him out, sent him back to me and refuses to pay his medical expenses or give him any benefits from injuries incurred in the service," Annis said.

Given an "uncharacterized discharge," handed out to individuals during their first 180 days of military service, Brown was released from the Army on Jan. 30.

He was paid no back wages. In fact, the time he was in the hospital and the two weeks of recuperation at home were deducted from his paycheck. His mother said the family had to pay his travel expenses back to Fort Sill.She said Brown has no military medical benefits and no insurance, with the exception of Medicaid, which he will receive on Feb. 1.

Annis works in human resources for a Bremen company. To her, it is inconceivable that an employer -- in this case, the Army -- could refuse to compensate an employee whose illness or injury occurred on the company's premises.

Brown has been diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy -- Berger's disease -- with acute tubular necrosis, a kidney disorder involving damage to the renal tubule cells.

His disease is an autoimmune disorder that can be caused by a number of things, two of which are reactions to dye used for radiographic studies and nonsteroid anti-inflammatory medication.

But the military services apparently aren't like other employers.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld special protections for the military, so the government can't be sued for injuries resulting from the negligence of others in the armed services.

It's called the Feres Doctrine, resulting from a 1950 case in which an Army lieutenant died in a barracks fire and his family sued for damages.The argument, basically, is that the military cannot be held to the same standards of care and safety because the preparation for war itself is a dangerous act. So the government has its own procedures for determining which claims should be upheld.

Typically, the first step would be to file a claim with the county veterans services officer.

Robert Stapan, the Marshall County veterans service officer, could not confirm whether Brown filed such a claim.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss cases," he said.

But typically, a veteran with an injury can file a claim through his office, which sends the file along to the department of Veteran Affairs, he said.

Once the VA issues its decision, appeals can be filed. Depending on the issues, he said, it may take a couple of months or a year to resolve the case.

In addition to being denied help from the military for his medical expenses, Brown also was denied access to the GI Bill. The premise was that his medical condition existed before induction, Annis said.

Debate over benefits

Brown's family doctor, Dr. Eric Tripp, disagrees strenuously.

Tripp sent a letter to the VA saying he has cared for Brown for the past 12 years and "that he did not have any previous kidney disease."

Annis said Brown has sought help from his congressman, but he received no reply. U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola lost in his re-election campaign in November. His office is closed, and his staff was unavailable for comment.

A new congressman, Joe Donnelly, doesn't take office until January.

Annis said the message she's getting is that Brown doesn't qualify for help because his injury and illness occurred so soon after his enlistment.

In its rating decision of Oct. 31, the Department of Veterans Affairs admits a connection between Brown's service in the military and his kidney disease.

But still, there is no compensation.

Brown and Annis had worked through the Amvets organization as well in filing the claim.

Feeling that the Army has turned its back on her son -- and because he was still a minor -- she has appealed the decision on his behalf.

When Annis decided to pursue an appeal, Amvets objected.

"Frankly, I think you are getting ready to mess up, and I choose not to be a part of a battle where a veteran's mother is doing the arguing," LaMonte Crenshaw, Amvets national service officer, wrote in a Nov. 15 letter.

"We are going to appeal," Annis said, "and, of course, like any other parent, I am going to represent my child."

She's following the procedures and hasn't hired a lawyer. "We're trying to do everything politically correctly," she said.

Still, she wonders how many young men and women have been damaged and discarded by the military.

"I don't know how this is allowed," she said. "I sent them a perfectly healthy child. Now we have a broken one."

Brown is maintaining some kidney function, with the help of fish oil supplements. But, at some point, it's likely he'll need a transplant, Annis said.

But Brown also is almost destitute. He says he owes on car payments and other loans, and his medical bills will amount to an estimated half-million dollars.

Staff writer Ken Bradford contributed to this report.