HELENA — A former Glacier County undersheriff and coroner who was denied disability benefits has sued the Montana Public Employees Retirement Board, arguing that post-traumatic stress disorder acquired on the job led to his abuse of drugs and his inability to continue in the profession.
Jeff Fauque was a deputy and coroner based in Cut Bank for 15 years, leaving the force after being charged in October 2010 with entering a house to steal prescription drugs. His claim later for disability benefits was denied.
Fauque has taken that decision to court, arguing in a filing that in Lewis and Clark County that the denial was “erroneous.”
His lawyer, Ben Snipes, said Thursday that the Montana Sheriff’s Retirement System, one of a handful of retirement plans administered by MPERS, “has turned his back on him in his time of need.”
Fauque witnessed numerous horrifying events, including death and dismemberment, while doing his job, Snipes said, and three medical witnesses told the board that PTSD was the cause of the drug dependency and other issues.
Snipes described the drug addiction as a “pretty tragic situation” brought on by Fauque’s self-medicating for PTSD.
Fauque argued before the board in administrative hearings that the PTSD would cause him anxiety, hesitation, a lack of empathy and a reduced ability to concentrate in a law enforcement job if he tried to return.
The PTSD was such that even the sight of law enforcement uniforms had an effect on Fauque, he arugued, and he even avoided the entire city of Cut Bank.
The board denied his application for disability benefits in June 2011 and again upon reconsideration in December 2011. A hearing examiner backed the denial again in November 2012.
The examiner said records show Fauque used his position to take prescription drugs from homes starting in 2007 or 2008 — including those of people who had recently died — and was investigated for it in 2008.
Fauque quit the sheriff’s office not because of his claimed disability, the examiner wrote, but because he was caught trying to obtain drugs in October 2010.
Fauque admitted to misdemeanors related to the 2010 incident and has received drug treatment and attended college classes.
He works now as a counselor in a drug treatment center, inspired by his own treatment and recovery to help others, Snipes said.
The disability of PTSD, he said, should be treated by any other disability, Snipes said.
“We should be more attuned to the mental-health care needs of these officers, given the job that we ask them to do,” he said.