August 18, 2012 in City

Conflicting evaluations mar trooper’s struggle with brass

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Second of two parts.

Is Allen Larned fit to return to work as a Washington State Patrol trooper?

A host of doctors have evaluated Larned in an attempt to answer that question. Larned was injured in an on-duty accident in August 2008; he returned to work in March 2009. Not quite two years later, he took another leave, citing a relapse related to traumatic brain injury and on the heels of a conflict with a supervisor and stress-related issues at work.

He says his range of problems – from vertigo to forgetfulness to lack of focus to the loss of taste and smell – make it impossible, and even dangerous, for him to return to work. He wants a disability retirement.

The state patrol will not discuss his case specifically. But, relying on the evaluations of several doctors, it has ordered him back to work. He has refused, and the conflict seems likely to end up in court.

The patrol – along with the state Department of Labor and Industries – made its decision following a series of evaluations performed in the past two years. In these evaluations, there’s an answer for everybody.

In April 2011, the doctor who manages Larned’s case for L&I wrote that he didn’t think Larned would ever be able to work as a trooper again.

“The patient is unable to return to work as an officer with the Washington State Patrol due to cognitive dysfunction and concerns for suboptimal decision-making,” he wrote. “I do not anticipate that the patient will be able to return to his job (as a trooper).”

In August and September 2011, Larned was given a “neuropsychological evaluation” by a clinical psychologist. In particular, the psychologist was seeking to compare Larned’s condition in 2009 – months after the car wreck and right before returning to work – with his condition after suffering what he called a relapse at the end of 2010.

The evaluation found that Larned’s scores on a variety of cognitive measures had declined between 2009 and 2011. “Given his current presentation, there is concern that he would be able to adequately fulfill the duties of a WSP trooper due to slowing in thought processes, declining memory and attention, as well as difficulty adjusting to changing sleep/work schedules,” the report concludes.

When the state patrol inquired if Larned could return to work as an administrative assistant, yet another clinical psychologist concluded that Larned “struggles with the impacts of his traumatic brain injury daily. In my clinical view, he is not ready to return to work in any capacity.”

However, he said, he would defer to a neuropsychologist who would be re-evaluating Larned. That doctor, on May 29 of this year, spent a day running Larned through a battery of tests. He referred to the series of past evaluations, including those that found him unfit to work and others that expressed more uncertainty. One doctor had reported that Larned had a “disability conviction” – the certainty that he is disabled, which frames all his thinking on the subject – and merely “mild and subtle” cognitive problems.

The doctor performing the May 29 analysis also noted that three doctors had approved Larned for return to work. He concluded that Larned’s problems stem from neurosis, including hypochondriasis, and said he may use physical problems to elicit support, nurturance and attention.

Larned, he concluded, could return to work without restriction or limitation.

There’s a lot about this case that remains unknown, unsaid, under the surface. The state patrol and L&I both declined to talk specifically about it, citing confidentiality surrounding personnel matters. I reviewed several medical reports provided by Larned himself – including a couple which do not fall in his favor and one which summarizes all the recent evaluations – but certainly didn’t see every possible corner of this very complicated and drawn-out matter.

Bob Calkins, WSP spokesman, said that the agency has tried to follow the law, to work toward the safety of both Larned and the public, and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

“We’re sure trying to do the right thing for everybody involved,” he said.

Calkins also said that the patrol would be open to hearing more about Larned’s case and would provide accommodations for him if necessary.

“If he’s got information we haven’t seen, we’d certainly like to see that,” he said. “But he doesn’t get to just not show up for work.”

Larned believes that the patrol and L&I are working to get him back on the job at all costs – he says the patrol doesn’t want to give him a disability retirement because it will cost them a half-time position on the streets.

He knows that some people doubt him. But he insists that his problems are real and that he isn’t able to do the job. He feels that, having served in a dangerous public-service job and suffering a life-altering injury, the state’s response has been an insult.

He’s now on leave without pay, insubordinate for refusing to report for duty. He doesn’t have a lawyer yet, but he’s looking around.

“Would you put me back in a patrol car?” he asks. “With the lights and the siren on, can you imagine what my brain would do?”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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