Spartanburg veteran sues SC Department of Corrections - FOX Carolina 21

Spartanburg veteran sues SC Department of Corrections

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Aldous Copeland in court (Fox Carolina 2014) Aldous Copeland in court (Fox Carolina 2014)

A Spartanburg National Guardsman is suing the South Carolina Department of Corrections saying they broke federal law.

Aldous Copeland has worked at the Tyger River Correctional facility since 2008. In 2010 Copeland was deployed  to Afghanistan, where he stayed for 14 months.

Copeland says when he returned home, he got his job back but not his health insurance. Copeland says he discovered he was uninsured after a trip to the doctor and says the SCDC blamed a change in insurance provider.

"They (SCDC) weren't too familiar with it," said Copeland. "They told me I would have to wait to enroll."

Copeland said he ended up waiting for months, he says he wasn't put back on the SCDC insurance until January of this year. During that period Copeland said he wasn't able to afford regular checkups and says the colon cancer he is now battling went undetected.

"I went to fight a war in another country and I shouldn't have had to fight a war for my benefits," Copeland said.

On Thursday Copeland's attorney John Reckenbeil argued the case in court saying his client's benefits should have been immediately reinstated under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

"When you send people to protect your country and you don't treat them fairly it's the greatest injustice that we have," Reckenbeil said.

SCDC attorney Gene Matthews told the judge that returning veterans were given a window of time to reapply for benefits and said Copeland didn't do it.

"It gives the person time to issue the notice of eligibility and gives the person time to decide if they want it," Matthews said.

Matthews also argued that the State of South Carolina was immune from being sued in this case.

But Reckenbeil said federal law trumps state law in this case and Copeland did not have to ask for his benefits back.

Reckenbeil said the lawsuit is asking the court to force the SCDC to comply with federal law and pay for Copeland's lost wages and benefits as well as attorney's fees.

Judge Mark Hayes did not make an immediate ruling in the case and did not set a timetable for his decision.

Copeland says the courts ruling will not only effect him but future veterans as well

"I don't want any other service member to go through what I did," Copeland said.

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