THE UNJUST CASE of injured State Trooper Scott Hawley just went from bad to worse, further damage to a public servant and his family by unfeeling bureaucracy.
Hawley, an undercover narcotics cop with 19 years' service, is embroiled in a battle with the Pennsylvania State Police because it stopped benefits related to a severe back injury he suffered during a drug bust in January 2006.
Now, because the case is in litigation, a credit union where Hawley hasn't missed a payment in 20 years is denying a loan to refinance his mortgage.
Living on partial pay and limited income from a small nursing business run by his wife, Melissa, Hawley tried to reduce the family's payment with a lower interest rate to save $500.
The loan was denied because of an outstanding bill from Hawley's nine-hour 2009 back surgery. The state won't pay until the benefits fight is resolved.
Talk about adding insult to injury.
Meanwhile, the Hawley family of four, of Towanda, Bradford County, is without health insurance, fending off creditors and facing a $41,000 "bill" that bureaucrats claim the family owes the state.
I wrote about the case, which Melissa Hawley calls "a nightmare," on Dec. 8.
It's a horrific example of government process trumping common sense.
After Hawley's '06 injury - a drug dealer trying to escape rammed Hawley's undercover car - he got full benefits. He returned to service later that year, but in '08 reinjured his back on a drug hunt in a state park. He was off, with benefits, for two months.
In October '08 he reinjured his back at home moving lawn furniture. Because the state said this injury was unrelated to work, he was stripped of all benefits. Now the state argues that he has no standing to question that decision because he missed an appeal deadline - one he wasn't aware of.
Talk about idiocy.
Does any sensate person think Hawley's home injury isn't directly related to damage done to his back twice on the job?
Should arbitrary deadlines outweigh decency?
The story brought lots of reaction, including from current and retired troopers.
"This is an absolute disgrace," wrote Michael P. "A hero's life, his family's quality of life is more important than an appeal deadline."
Others praised Hawley, noting that his job is far from the safest in law enforcement.
"You'd think," wrote one, "your own department would be behind you when you're risking your butt."
You would, indeed.
I spoke with Gov. Rendell about the case. He said he read the original column and asked his office to look into details because decisions so far struck him as "unfair."
Too bad he didn't read the letter Melissa Hawley wrote to State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski (with a copy to Rendell) in August.
She laid out the details and ended with: "I don't believe that he [my husband] should be denied a benefit that he is entitled to over the filing of a piece of paper."
Nor do I.
But last Friday, Rendell press secretary Gary Tuma told me that nothing can happen until the outcome of arbitration, adding: "Pending that decision, they [State Police] are willing to listen to Trooper Hawley's side of the story, and will try to be fair."
Pretty lame: They heard his side; they had several chances to be "fair."
Philly state Sen. Larry Farnese also read the original column and was outraged. To his credit, he spoke with the Hawleys, offered help, wrote to the governor, copied every state lawmaker and is pushing for resolution of the case.
(I assume that elected officials in Bradford County are in a permanent state of hibernation.)
"As an attorney," says Farnese, "I know there are ways to waive technicalities such as missed paper deadlines. This looks like form over substance, and I want to do anything I possibly can."
Good, because the case has ongoing ripple effects. It's further punishing an already-injured trooper. It forced his two children out of their Christian school because tuition was no longer affordable. It's keeping his family in hardship and at financial risk.
Enough is enough. The State Police should be ashamed. The bureaucracy should be embarrassed. And the governor and lawmakers should right this wrong and give this family justice.
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