JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's a fight for a 12-year law enforcement veteran that you may have scrolled past on social media, but the fight is real and could be lost next week. Retired Detective Joseph "Joe" Locus has PTSD, cancer, and has been given notice that if he can't pay his rent by next week, he will also be homeless.
You may have seen Joe's story shared on social media platforms across the country through a GoFundMe account, but his battle is happening here in Florida. Joe lives in the Punta Gorda area with his certified service dog Jinky. The single father is there to be close to his 14-year-old son Anthony and his 20-year-old daughter who is attending college.
Joe's police post-traumatic stress
Just like thousands of service members, thousands of first responders suffer from post-traumatic stress, and Joe is one of them. On top of that, he found out one year ago, he has renal cancer.
"I fell through every crack that could be fallen through," Joe told News4Jax.
Joe was diagnosed with cumulative PTSD from his days as a police officer and detective, which started in New York and then took him to North Carolina. Some of the real-life tragedies you read about nationally, he actually responded to.
In 2003, a US Airways Express flight -- bound for Greenville, South Carolina -- crashed just after takeoff from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Nineteen passengers and two pilots died. Joe was the second officer to arrive on the fiery scene. Those images are still vivid in his head 14 years later.
Joe was also the officer who responded to a bad crash involving a small boy on a North Carolina roadway. Joe held the child, who was the same age as his son at the time, waiting for paramedics. That child died in his arms -- the ambulance delayed due to a train.
“It was so hard. He died while I held him, and there was nothing I could do. It could have been my own son,” said Joe.
Then in 2007, Joe recalls the moments he feared for his life following a high-speed chase. While the detective was stopped behind the suspects -- with Joe halfway in and halfway out of his police vehicle -- the suspects backed up fast, ramming him, throwing him. He fired his weapon, injuring two suspects in the car.
"These things happen on a regular basis to many of us in law enforcement," said Joe. "People may not realize each thing impacts us."
As protocol after an officer-involved shooting, Joe went to therapy and received his PTSD diagnosis. But, he says he went back to work after it was determined he was not a threat to himself or anyone else.
"I went back to being a detective and solving crimes," said Joe.
For four years straight, from 2004 to 2007, Joe was named Officer of the Year with his sheriff's office, credited for his investigative skills and his positive community relationships. But the PTSD, began causing trouble for his relationship at home.
In 2008, after an injury in a foot pursuit, Joe medically retired from law enforcement, hoping to heal and get his family life in order - with his intentions to wear the badge again one day.
Joe’s life after the badge
A few years after Joe resigned from the force, he made a decision to move with his wife and children to Southwest Florida -- to be closer to other family members and have their support. But Joe never expected the next tragedy, the death of his younger brother, James. Joe practically raised him, and a painful injury caused James to become addicted to opioids. An overdose took his brother’s life.
Joe's marriage ended the next year and he was struggling personally and financially. Family helped him pay for his certified service dog, Jinky. The now 6-year-old German Shepherd is a lifesaver for Joe, as Jinky is trained to keep him calm and protect him during panic attacks.
In 2013, with Jinky by his side, Joe learned that despite his lawyer fighting hard on his behalf for several years to get him his law enforcement pension, he was denied -- citing Joe's move to Florida instead of returning to the police force. Joe’s attorney immediately filed for Social Security disability, but again, was denied.
Joe is diagnosed with cancer
In April of 2016, Joe was diagnosed with aggressive Stage III renal cancer. His left kidney and surrounding tissue was removed, but in December, he learned the cancer wasn't gone.
Joe is currently on state Medicaid, which he says covers some of his medical expenses, but Medicaid has not yet approved additional treatments to fight his cancer. Joe also receives EBT to buy food and is grateful to donors who have helped him with dog food for Jinky.
Joe's fight to avoid homelessness
The same month Joe learned his cancer was back, he did get a six-month grant to help pay his living expenses, but that grant ran out early. That's where we are today.
Joe has been selling off his belongings and says his landlord has been very gracious in accepting whatever rent money he could afford to pay. But unfortunately, that grace period has run out. Joe was served notice that he must be able to pay his full, $800 monthly rent by April 13, or his landlord has no choice but to move Joe out and replace him with a paying tenant.
Joe's family isn't financially able to help him, and with Jinky, they don't have room for him to stay. Joe tells me the idea of homelessness scares him, but he's also terrified of not being able to provide a bedroom for his 14-year-old son so they can be together on the weekends.
The 40-year-old says he’s looking to get an RV, so his monthly expenses will nearly be cut in half. He also knows, he has to get the money to pay for cancer treatments, while he waits to see if state Medicaid will come through and if the Social Security Administration will reverse its decision and give him monthly disability.
Joe asked Sen. Marco Rubio's office to help him get that disability and Rubio's staff filed a Dire Need Request to have the Social Security Administration put Joe in front of a judge to plead his case for disability.
“Our office has been assisting Mr. Locus in appealing this decision, and we are hopeful he will receive good news and fully recover from his battle with cancer. Our prayers are with him and his family,” Rubio Spokeswoman Christina Mandreucci told News4Jax.
After we contacted Rubio's office yesterday to discuss Joe’s situation, Joe says a staff member in Naples, Fla., contacted him hours later to talk about local resources to help Joe with his housing. There is no solution yet, with his April 13 deadline inching closer.
“There are so many of us out there suffering from PTSD, and so many more who don’t report it,” said Joe. “Every day is hard, there has to be a way for those like me, and those after me, to get the help they need.”