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Y'all-itics: Former Texas DPS trooper goes to US Supreme Court this month arguing wrongful termination after serving in Iraq

“I signed two blank checks – one for this state and one for this nation. I would expect the same in return,” said U.S. Army veteran, Le Roy Torres.
Credit: Taylor Lumsden, WFAA

DALLAS — Le Roy Torres, a former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, will argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court later this month in a case that could have far-reaching implications.

While working as a state trooper, Le Roy Torres’ unit got called up in the U.S. Army reserves to deploy to Balad, Iraq in 2007.

But while serving overseas, Torres sustained lung damage and got debilitating headaches after inhaling toxic smoke from the military burning its trash on base in what are known as burn pits.

When Torres returned to Texas, he had trouble resuming his duties as a cop.

“I couldn’t catch my breath after a foot pursuit. I was able to get the guy in custody, but I thought I was having a stroke. I was having shortness of breath,” Torres told WFAA.

Doctors diagnosed him with toxic brain injury and constrictive bronchiolitis from the smoldering burn pits next to his base.

In a moving podcast interview for Y’all-itics, Torres and his attorney explained how the legal case began.

Torres asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to be reassigned. His request was refused, and the state gave Torres a choice: report for duty as a state trooper or be fired. He chose to resign. 

Afterwards, Torres sued Texas in state court for violating the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of military service. His lawsuit asks for more than $5 million in damages.

But Texas argues that it cannot be sued in state court over a federal statute.

Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety will go before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 29.

One of Torres’ attorneys said a ruling in his favor could have far-reaching implications for thousands of other vets who also work for city and state governments.

“Mr. Torres is valiantly leading the charge for potentially thousands of other Reserve and Guard personnel. If we are successful at the Supreme Court, it is simply a hurdle for him, not a finish line, as we still have to try, and hopefully win, his case in Texas. We hope we get that opportunity,” said attorney Brian Lawler.

Burn pits is what brought President Biden to Fort Worth on Tuesday. He praised the Honoring Our PACT Act passed by the U.S. House last week and urged the U.S. Senate to pass it, as well, so he can sign it into law.

The legislation will require the Veteran’s Affairs hospitals to treat 23 more illnesses related to burn pits. Until now, the V.A. would consider most burn pits treatment on a case-by-case basis. Senators are reportedly concerned about the $300-billion dollar price tag with the legislation.

“As one local representative told me he couldn’t sign a blank check when I went to see him to see if he would support the bill,” Torres told the Y’all-itics political podcast. “That was painful for me to hear that because I signed two blank checks – one for this state and one for this nation. I would expect the same in return."

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