A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Army veteran and reservist Ryan Broderick to three years’ probation for threatening to shoot up the Fayetteville VA Medical Center if he didn’t get help with his PTSD.
After spending four months in jail, Broderick was allowed to go free. Under the terms of his probation, he will finally get the medical care he was seeking when he called a Veterans Affairs crisis counselor on Jan. 29 and, in a fit of desperation, threatened to go to the hospital in Fayetteville and start shooting doctors and nurses.
“I feel very hopeful,” Broderick said after his release. “All I wanted was a little bit of help.”
Broderick, 31, of Fayetteville, originally faced a felony charge of threatening federal employees. He agreed on Monday to a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge W. Earl Britt said he did not like the agreement but accepted it to spare Broderick the uncertainty of a jury trial. The deal limited his sentencing options to active time followed by supervised release, or up to five years probation. The judge chose probation, he said, because it would give him a longer period in which to provide Broderick with services.
While on probation, Broderick is to commit no crimes; have no illegal controlled substances; have no firearms except those needed for his service in the U.S. Army Reserves; get mental health treatment and attend a program for substance abusers; and get vocational training. He must report regularly to his probation officer and submit to searches by law enforcement.
When asked if he would like to make a statement, Broderick stood – his ankles shackled and his voice breaking – and told the court, “I’m very disappointed with myself. I tried to get help and I went about it the wrong way, I know that.
“I just hope my family forgives me, and my unit.”
Broderick, a native of Canada who has dual citizenship, served eight years in the Army and has spent two years in the reserves. During active duty, he deployed three times to Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a mechanic whose job during deployments included cleaning out blood and body parts from Army vehicles wracked by improvised bombs. His last deployment was in 2010-2011.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD in 2010, he said, but was never given any medication or treatment except for seven or eight group counseling sessions in 2013. Those were helping, he said, but they ended that summer and his symptoms got worse.
Broderick was spiraling out of control when he dialed the VA on Jan. 29, showing classic signs of PTSD: nightmares, night sweats, sleeplessness, anger, depression and anxiety.
He hadn’t slept in three days, he said, and every time his eyes fell shut, he saw a constant reel of explosions rocking the bases where he served. His grades at community college were falling. He was fighting with his girlfriend. He was essentially homeless, staying with a friend.
Broderick said later he never would have carried out the threat to take a gun to the VA hospital, and that he took it back after the counselor told him he had an appointment on Feb. 3.
But the counselor reported the threat, and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Broderick in the parking lot of his son’s daycare 31 hours later.
Cases tough to call
Across the country, other veterans who found themselves in the hot seat after a threatening call to the VA were spared convictions. In 2013, a veteran in North Carolina was spared a trial and conviction after threatening to blow up a VA office in Winston-Salem, according to a monthly report prepared by the VA’s Inspector General.
North Carolina has launched a pilot program of veterans treatment courts where issues common to veterans such as drug and alcohol dependence, joblessness and homelessness are taken into consideration.
Diana Pereira, an assistant federal public defender, sought the same sort of leniency for Broderick, she told the judge. Each time, Pereira said she was turned down.
At the sentencing Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney S. Katherine Burnette said Broderick’s threat had rattled VA personnel in Fayetteville and distracted the agency from its mission of helping veterans.
Thursday afternoon, Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said, “I acknowledge that these kinds of cases are particularly tough to call. But we have a duty to look after the safety of the public particularly when someone is threatening to take the lives of innocent people.”
Judge Britt acknowledged that such a threat could terrorize hospital workers because there is no way to know when a person might actually carry out a violent plan.
But he said he was impressed with Broderick’s admission that he had done the wrong thing. He thanked him for his service.
Britt also took the opportunity to say that the nation and its leaders have not done their duty to service members who return from war psychologically injured.
“I don’t think the blame, if one has to call it that, can be placed on any one particular place,” he said in court. “We all bear some responsibility. The biggest blame in my view is the failure of the Congress of the United States to adequately fund the Veterans Affairs and otherwise prepare for and cope with the problems we have with so many returning veterans.”