After border patrol experience triggers PTSD, Army vet fights for transfer to Michigan
Anyone who goes to fight for the U.S. military in Afghanistan is putting themselves in harm’s way. However, few had a more dangerous job than Grayling, Mich. native Army Sgt. Anthony Gazvoda.
Gazvoda’s job was to clear the roads for his fellow soldiers. This meant he was on the lookout for Improvised Explosive Devices and potential ambushes. By the time Gazvoda left the service with an honorable discharge and a commendation for valor, he had been involved in 34 firefights and dealt with 32 IED incidents.
Gazvoda returned to the United States and settled in Laredo, Texas in 2011, where he got a job as a border patrol agent with the Department of Homeland Security.
I was experiencing anxiety, insomnia, depression when I was down in Laredo. And they determined it was the environment in Laredo, the climate, just the geographic location in a largely densely populated area that I wasn't familiar with. And they determined that I needed to be removed from that environment.
However, upon returning to the states, something about him was a little off.
“After two months of being down there, my sleep started to be off a little bit and it just progressively got worse and worse, almost to the point where I didn’t realize what was going on,” said Gazvoda. “And then after about 10 months of being down there, my supervisor actually approached me at the checkpoint and indicated that I didn’t look the healthiest and that’s when I looked at myself internally and went and sought aid at the VA down in Laredo.”
The doctors couldn’t come up with anything, so Gazvoda took leave and returned to his home state of Michigan to seek a second opinion. The doctors in Michigan determined that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I was experiencing anxiety, insomnia, depression when I was down in Laredo,” said Gazvoda. “And they determined it was the environment in Laredo, the climate, just the geographic location in a largely densely populated area that I wasn’t familiar with. And they determined that I needed to be removed from that environment.”
Nobody would blame him if he said, "I just can't do anything. It's been too hard, it's been too difficult. I'm just going to go home and stay on disability benefits." And no one would blame him. He served his country. In ways that we can't even imagine. But instead, he says "I want to go back to work." And I respect that immensely.
To put it simply, Laredo reminded him of Afghanistan and was triggering his PTSD. Gazvoda filed a transfer request on the basis of that diagnosis but after that request was denied, he sued the Department of Homeland Security.
During the trial, the government suggested that the large Hispanic population often speaking a foreign language was part of Gazvoda’s problem, and suggested he was seeking a transfer to a more Caucasian environment. He called that “ridiculous.”
In the end, the federal court ruled in his favor, but a judge recently granted a temporary injunction in the case. Gazvoda was not seeking any money in the case, only a transfer. Now, with the case on hold, he's waiting to see what's next.
His lawyer, Jason Turkish, says he's proud to represent Gazvoda.
"Nobody would blame him if he said, ‘I just can’t do anything. It’s been too hard, it’s been too difficult. I’m just going to go home and stay on disability benefits,'" said Turkish. "And no one would blame him. He served his country. In ways that we can’t even imagine. But instead, he says ‘I want to go back to work.’ And I respect that immensely. And I don’t understand why the Homeland Security Secretary doesn’t too.”
Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the case, what’s next for Gazvoda, and the likelihood that he will end up being transferred to Michigan.