Chicago Airport Injures and Humiliates Disabled War Veteran

I don’t travel very much but when I do I always making a point to stop and thank the men and women I see in military uniform for serving and protecting our freedoms. I know all too often that they serve thankless jobs.

Some of my friends over the years served and died and others suffered grave wounds protecting freedoms both and here and abroad.  One of my childhood friends lost a leg in Vietnam and several high school classmates returned home from that same war in a pine box.  When I entered the Air Force I spent a week and a half at the base hospital. There I met a number of young men that had been wounded in Vietnam, and those memories have never left me.[always]

One of my nephews was wounded three times in Iraq by the time his tour was over.  Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a large toll on men and women not just in deaths but in the loss of limbs from IED’s. I remember reading a report about a year ago that said there were 20 to 30 members of the military that lost a leg, an arm or an eye for everyone that was killed in action.

That’s why when I read this report of what happened to a wounded veteran at Chicago O’Hare International Airport I was enraged and saddened at the same time.

Former Marine Sgt. Joseph Smith was wounded in 2004 in Afghanistan which left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. It also meant that he had to use a catheter to contain his urine.

Joseph was traveling as part of a Paralympic shooting team when he had a layover at O’Hare. He was on his way to meet his connecting flight when a wheel of his wheelchair became stuck. An airport employee trying to help him ignored the warning about the stuck wheel and tried to force the wheelchair forward dumping Joseph out of the wheelchair. As he fell he struck his head and suffered a concussion. Joseph described what happened saying:

“I flew out of my chair, hit my head on the left side of my head… I landed on my head.”

When he did make it to his connecting flight he was denied access to an aisle seat and was forced to drag his body across the seats and in so doing tore the catheter bag loose drenching him in his own urine. He sat there hurting and humiliated.

Joseph has now filed lawsuit against Air Serv Corporation and United Airlines for $300,000 in damages. He said the lawsuit is not about the money but more about dignity. In commenting about the lawsuit, Joseph said:

“Apparently some people out there, they just don’t get it. So, I want to make sure this never happens to someone else. I just want people out there to know that… People with disabilities, we’re not invisible. We’re people too.”

I understand some of what Joseph has gone through, although I’ve never been confined to a wheelchair I have spent nearly 2 years on crutches. I’ve had people ridicule me because of the crutches, and on several occasions I’ve had people kicked the crutches out from underneath me and then laugh as I lay sprawled on the ground. It makes you so mad that you would like to just grab them by the collar and shake some sense into their empty heads. However on one occasion I did throw my crutch like a spear hitting the guy in the back and knocking him down. When everybody laughed at him you could tell he was embarrassed and ashamed for his actions. Hopefully he learned his lesson.

In the case with Joseph perhaps a fitting punishment for the airport employee would be to have them confined to a wheelchair and use a catheter for a set period of time. Perhaps once they experience what it’s like they may have a deeper appreciation for those that don’t have the choice to get up and walk away. I hope and pray in this case that Joseph’s lawsuit will help make at least some others a little more understanding and caring. And if by chance Joseph sees this article I would want him to know that given the opportunity I would shake his hand, saluted him, and thank him for the sacrifice that he made so that I’m free to write this.