On Thursday, Army veteran Ryan Broderick could shed his orange jumpsuit, a uniform he has worn since January when he was accused of being a threat to the government he upended his life to serve during three combat tours.
Broderick made a call to the Veterans Affairs health resources center and crisis hotline. His words were sharp and menacing: If he didn’t get the help he needed for his combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, he might come to the VA medical center in Fayetteville and start shooting doctors and nurses. That call, which he said was an act of desperation, landed him in jail to await a federal trial.
On Monday, Senior U.S. District Court Judge W. Earl Britt accepted Broderick’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault charge. Britt, an Army veteran, said the case has given him “much concern,” as he expressed empathy for wounded veterans struggling to get the help they need from a beleaguered VA system. He denied the U.S. attorney’s request for 60 days to prepare for a sentencing hearing and scheduled it for Thursday.
After 41 months of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during America’s war on terror, Broderick was fragile. From 2005 through 2011, he was deployed three times into combat zones, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. His job: cleaning the Army’s vehicles bloodied and battered after mortar explosions.
Back in the United States, Broderick’s trauma continued. Comrades committed suicide; in July 2012, he watched a soldier in his unit gun down a commanding officer during a safety briefing at Fort Bragg. Broderick could barely sleep, and when he did, his mind flashed constant violence.
“My life just started going down fast,” Broderick said. “Everything. My social life. My love life. Just everything. I couldn’t ... it seemed like I couldn't do anything right.”
Broderick had prepared to take his chances with the jury. Instead, he took a plea deal extended by U.S. attorneys late last week. The misdemeanor assault charge spares him a felony conviction with a hefty sentence and the risk of his status in the Army Reserve.
Request for mercy
Britt expressed his distaste with the plea. Britt could have rejected it, but doing so would have forced Broderick to face the same uncertainty he has since his arrest in January. Britt said he wanted to spare him that.
Assistant federal public defender Diana Pereira told Britt on Monday that she had asked repeatedly for some mercy from the U.S. attorney’s office, including a diversion program that would have allowed Broderick to get the psychological care he had sought from the VA. Periera said the deal they submitted Monday wasn’t what she had wanted for Broderick; she described the case as “heartbreaking.”
Britt asked U.S. Attorney S. Katherine Burnette why her office had refused to consider alternative resolutions.
Burnette defended her decision to pursue Broderick. She faulted him for missing a VA appointment to screen for traumatic brain injury. She said that the VA crisis counselor to whom he spoke on Jan. 29 invited him to go to the emergency room; he had not.
Burnette said the threat rattled VA officials in Fayetteville.
“This was a very serious threat,” Burnette told Britt.
For 21/2 years, Broderick said, he has sought therapy and medicine from the VA to treat his PTSD. Other than a group therapy session in the summer of 2013, he said he has received none. In December, he contemplated suicide; the VA made him an appointment to see a psychiatrist for Feb. 3. He received no medicine to help with depression until he was locked up in January.