The Army is being sued by a veteran who was set on fire while working at a military hospital by a civilian hospital employee.
According to the Army Times, civilian Clifford Currie doused 1st Lt. Katie Blanchard, his supervisor at the Munson Army Health Center, with a water bottle full of gasoline and threw a lit match at her. Currie was layer given a 20-year sentence for attempted murder.
Blanchard brought up Currie’s behavior to the hospital administration, including 14 separate staff members, multiple times in the months leading to the assault, even admitting she thought he may try to harm or kill her.
“I know that I felt really let down when I went to them and told them I didn’t feel safe,” she said. “I thought he would bring a gun in.”
After she was set on fire, Blanchard filed a personal injury claim against the Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the health center is located.
“His anger and disrespect towards me continued to grow until I became scared to be alone with him,” Blanchard wrote. “He would often curse and yell at me when I would counsel or correct him, which is why I always requested a third party to accompany me when I had to speak with Mr. Currie.”
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When someone joins the U.S. Army, they pledge to follow the Feres doctrine, which prohibits service members or their families from holding the Department of Defense accountable for injury or death.
Considering what she’s been put through over the past few years, Blanchard may have a case, Feres doctrine or not.
More than a year has passed since the incident. Blanchard, now 28, has been forced to spend thousands of dollars on dozens of costly surgeries, and it’s unlikely she will ever fully recover.
Without question, her life will never be the same.
“Is it okay for us to have gross negligence and zero accountability in the military? Because if you look at my case, that’s what it is,” Blanchard told the Army Times. “Zero accountability for the way they treated me and the things that they missed that will forever affect my life.”
Blanchard has so far undergone more than 100 surgeries, and still receives treatment at least once a month. She has been seeing a speech pathologist as well as physical and occupational therapists to help her speak and move around without pain.
Many of her wounds have seemingly healed, but as skin was removed from her lower body to repair her face and hands, she’s covered in scars, both seen and unseen.
“Just going outside, my skin turns bright purple, and it hurts and burns. I can’t be in the sun. Just stuff like that, that if you had normal skin, you wouldn’t have to worry about,” Blanchard said. “My skin is kind of like tissue paper.”
Blanchard still requires expensive moisturizing cream to keep her skin from breaking, and an adjustable bed that keeps her body in a manageable position, which neither the Army nor her insurance is willing to cover.
She is seeking a little less than $3.5 million from Fort Leavenworth in her lawsuit, which will pay for some of her surgeries and recurring expenses, but not all.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.