Central Texas veteran loses job after failing new physical test

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LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — Across Barry Stevens home, photos and certificates are daily reminders of his Navy career. 

“It was a dream come true,” says Stevens as he took us from one wall to the next showing pictures of his younger days. “I was finally in the Navy.”

Stevens retired as a Gunner’s Mate First Class after 22 years. He traveled the world on eight deployments, many of which he says were in the Persian Gulf. 

“Makes me proud of what I did. Sometimes I look back and think, ‘my God did I really do that? Did I go to these places,'” says Stevens. “Probably the proudest time of my life.”

After retirement, Stevens, 67, says he still wanted to do something around the military and decided to become a security officer at Camp Mabry in Austin. He often worked the front gates checking visitors ID’s. Most recently he worked the night shift conducting patrols and securing buildings. 

“I loved it! I was working around the military again,” says Stevens. “I was doing something I really felt important.”

Camp Mabry uses some civilian security officers to help protect the base. Stevens had hoped to retire in three years, but he says around Christmas he was forced to resign for not passing a new mandatory Physical Ability Test. It included 19 push-ups and 1.5-mile run, but Stevens was given the option to walk 2 miles which he didn’t finish on time. He says he missed it by about two minutes. 

“Because of my disability I simply could not complete the requirements of the test,” explains Stevens pointing out that he has arthritis in his knees and back. He showed KXAN’s Arezow Doost documentation from his doctor asking for more time to finish the walk, but he says it was all ignored. 

The physical test is now part of the job description for a security officer. It’s classified as a directive and explains that employees need to be able to “move quickly” and take part in a “foot pursuit” in emergency situations. “If we were going after someone obviously there is going to be several of us out there,” says Stevens. “By that time, we’re going to be calling the Austin Police Department or the Department of Public Safety to assist us if it escalates.”

Stevens ended up getting a lawyer and they have now filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The document outlines that the test is not an accurate or objective way to evaluate the abilities of a security officer. 

The Texas Military Department is the state agency that oversees both the security officer’s employment and the Texas Army National Guard. KXAN wanted to know how many other employees were forced to resign or terminated because of the updated test, but a spokesperson wouldn’t answer that question along with several others regarding the test. 

“As you know the Texas Military Department treats all of our employees with respect and dignity. The safety and security of our personnel is very important and we maintain standards in accordance with regulatory guidance. Due to ongoing legal proceedings, we cannot comment any further.”

Lt. Col. Laura Sanchez Cross-Texas Army National Guard LTC, MI Commanding

“I worked there 14 years and I was dismissed and it was just like bye. That was it. Bye,” says Stevens. “There was no ‘we’re sorry…  here is a certificate of appreciation’… and I felt like I was thrown away. I felt like I was thrown away like trash.”

The physical test for security officers comes on the heels of the Army rolling out a new fitness test. The Army Combat Fitness Test or ACFT is expected to be the standard fitness test for all soldiers by this October. 

The old test included push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. The updated test covers six exercises over an hour including deadlifts, hand-release push-ups and a 2-mile run. Army officials say this will reduce injuries and get soldiers combat ready. Stevens points out that the directive for security officers cites the Army. “We are state civilian employees. We work for the State of Texas, not the Army,” explains Stevens. 

The National Guard Bureau, which oversees guard troops across the country, wouldn’t say if this is happening in other states, but a spokesperson says because of the nature of the job, the Texas Military Department can set this standard.

Stevens, who is a decorated veteran, says he never dreamed his second career would end this way. “I’ve been a productive state employee for 14 years and… I feel like I’ve been thrown away. Is this how Texas treats its disabled veterans?”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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