Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

A Senior Foreign Service Officer with over 21 years of Foreign Service experience was serving as an Office Director when he was disciplined for repeated violations of the Department’s Policy on Violence and Threatening Behavior in the work place.  The FSO filed a grievance contending that the five-day suspension as unreasonable (also includes loss of pay, and a discipline letter being placed in his Official Personnel File for two years).

The FSO in his grievance filing also cites as one of the mitigating factors a link between his anger and inappropriate language at the workplace, symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and adaptation disorder as a result of his service in a Provincial Reconstruction Team. The grievance appeal was denied.

Goya – The Disasters of War | Plate 65: Spanish: Qué alboroto es este? English: What is this hubbub? (wikipedia)

From FSGB Case No. 2011-004 dtd. August 19, 2011:

HELD: The Department carried its burden of proof in deciding to discipline grievant, a Senior Foreign Service Officer charged with inappropriate conduct, for five days. Grievant failed to prove that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he asserted was responsible for his repeated violations of the Department’s Policy on Violence and Threatening Behavior in the work place.

SUMMARY: Grievant, a Senior Foreign Service Officer, was Office Director in the Bureau of [REDACTED] when he was charged with one count and seven specifications of inappropriate conduct in interactions with his staff and others. The charge and specifications include, for example, repeatedly referring to women as “bitches” and “hormonal,” yelling, banging on his desk and forcefully expressing his political views throughout the office.

A five-day suspension was proposed, to which grievant did not respond, and the Deciding Official sustained the specifications and penalty. Grievant filed a grievance, accepting full responsibility and expressing regret, but asserting, in mitigation, that his one-month suspension from duties (with pay) and the humiliation he suffered before his colleagues already constituted punitive action. He further claimed that, because the charged behavior was completely out of character, he sought mental health counseling and his clinical social worker identified a link between his behavior and PTSD as a result of his earlier service in [REDACTED]. Grievant also argued that a five-day suspension was not comparable to penalties imposed in other similar cases. The Department found no grounds for mitigation and grievant appealed to this Board.

The Board held that grievant knew or should have known the Department’s policy on threatening behavior. As a senior official, grievant did not justify a reduction in penalty based on case comparisons of lower level officers engaged in isolated incidents. Declarations by grievant’s subordinates and colleagues clearly demonstrated that he created a hostile and threatening work environment. Grievant made no claim to being unaware of his behavior and did not defend himself by raising the issue of PTSD or counseling until after the Proposing and Deciding officials issued their letters of discipline. His belated consultation with a clinical social worker to whom he described his behavior appears to be self serving. The social worker did not diagnose grievant with PTSD, but rather stated that based on grievant’s explanations, he was probably suffering from mild PTSD. For seven months after grievant’s return from [REDACTED] he served at the [REDACTED] apparently without incident. He presented no explanation about experiences in [REDACTED] that could have caused PTSD, or testimonials from others at the [REDACTED] or prior to his service in [REDACED] to support his claim that PSTD accounted for his “out of character” behavior afterwards. The Department presented overwhelming evidence that grievant violated its policy against threatening behavior. The penalty imposed by the Department was found to be within the realm of reasonableness.

The grievance appeal was denied.

Domani Spero

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4 responses

  1. Hi Domani and other PTSD readers- Absolutely State should have a better system to support employees after returning from combat zones (or evacuations, or natural disasters). Right now, all they get is a cursory 3 hour session where they get some handouts- the High Stress Debrief. This session is a State CYA move and nearly useless for someone actually suffering from PTSD.
    But at the end of the day, your mental health is your responsibility. If you wait for State to get its act together on PTSD, you will be crazy for a long time. As an adult, if you notice you are not feeling quite right, you need to seek treatment immediately. Don’t wait for an unpleasant episode like the one above. Go see a professional. Make the appointment today.

  2. Pingback: Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails | Diplopundit « MNLABOR

  3. Thanks for posting. My heart goes out to everyone involved in this case. The employee having served in a PRT in what must have been extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The bewildered employees who felt threatened by the disturbing behavior of their boss. The State Department system, which has so little capacity for dealing with situations like this, which will only become more prevalent as more and more of us serve in combat zones. And come back.
    A couple of things- a diagnosis of PTSD is your best defense, and can only be made by a qualified professional. A social worker cannot diagnose. If you have served in a combat zone and come back acting weird, please do everyone a favor and go see a psychiatrist or psychologist who can actually give you a diagnosis. You will not know you have a PTSD when you come back. You will just feel different and angry all the time. Trust me, get diagnosed. It is the only way to get good treatment.
    Second, PTSD is a ticking time bomb. It is completely to be expected that someone with PTSD will come back from their service in a combat zone and be able to hold it together for a while. Luckily for me, I lost it only a few weeks after coming back and so was able to get treatment quickly. But in many cases, someone will not “lose it” for months or years afterward. You get triggered by something and BAM! You are right back in the war zone. That trigger may happen soon or it may not happen for a long time.
    Third, you are an adult and so even if you have PTSD, you still are responsible for not attacking people or otherwise breaking the law, and you can and will be held responsible. PTSD is not a license to break the law. It does not make yelling at people OK. The soldier who “lost it” and killed all those innocent Afghani civilians a few months back? He probably had major PTSD, but he also killed a bunch of innocent people. Getting suspended from State is a good thing, because if you have PTSD you need to get treated, and this is your wake-up call.
    And State, this sort of situation is going to keep happening. We need to do a better job of handling this sort of PTSD situation. It is only a matter of time before someone comes back and instead of yelling at their employees, actually does someone, or themselves, physical harm.

    • Rachel,
      Thank you for your note. It sounds like State and FSGB have not heard of Delayed Onset PTSD which could manifest long after a traumatic event — my understanding from within six months to even as late as four years.

      I do think that employees should not get suspended to have their wake up call. State sent these employees to the war zones and it should have a system to screen them after they come home. And not just a once over during the post-deployment briefing. I sent you a note offline and hope to have an additional post on this next week.