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Bethel Vet Drops State Bid, Says True Mission Is Ministry, Not Politics

Thomas Burke, a former U.S. Marine and current student at Yale Divinity School, has dropped out of contention for the state Assembly. He plans to pursue his mission of helping people in other ways. Photo Credit: Thomas Burke/Facebook
Thomas Burke is shown in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Many of the children shown tagging along with him were killed when they found an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade in their village, he says. Photo Credit: Thomas Burke/Facebook

BETHEL, CONN. -- A former U.S. Marine and Yale divinity student who was seeking to run for state office has decided his true mission is his ministry and not politics.

Thomas C. Burke, 26, of Bethel, announced on Facebook this week he was withdrawing his nomination to run in the 107th state Assembly District.

The district covers Brookfield and parts of Bethel and Danbury, and is represented by Repubican Stephen Harding.

Burke originally intended to run in the 2nd state Assembly District, which includes Bethel, Newtown, Redding and Danbury, but had been told he had switched parties too late to do so.

Burke said he plans to sue the state Democratic Committee for ruling him ineligible to run in the 2nd District primary.

Burke endorsed Harding, saying the freshman has been doing a “phenomenal job” representing constituents.

Harding has agreed, Burke said, to sponsor legislation that would provide in-state tuition for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders and who have received less-than-honorable discharges.

“Steve is a man of his word and I know he will get this done to show Connecticut’s commitment to its nation’s heroes,” Burke wrote on Facebook.

He declined to endorse anyone in the race for an open seat in the 2nd District, where Republican Will Duff and Democrat Raghib Allie-Brennan are running.

Burke, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was among several veterans who recently went to Congress to push for changes that would require the military to recognize PTSD as a contributing factor in past discharges, according to The New York Times.

Burke blames PTSD for his having received a less-than-honorable discharge – a status that prevents vets from receiving benefits, including education and health care.

According to The New York Times, Burke said he started smoking hashish while in Afghanistan to relieve stress after a group of local children he had befriended were killed by a grenade and he and his squad had to bury their dismembered bodies.

When cited for misconduct because of drug use and told he faced discharge, Burke tried to commit suicide, The New York Times story said.

Sent to a psychiatric hospital and later to a veterans facility, where he was told he had PSTD, Burke sought an honorable discharge in 2014, but was denied, reported The New York Times.

According to The New York Times, the Army has a history of rejecting the majority of such appeals, but Congress has moved to require mental health professionals to review all discharges.

Burke, in explaining his change of heart, said a trip with his church’s youth group to Cuba reminded him of his “vocational call to leadership and ministry.”

“This is where I am meant to change the world,” he wrote. “In the hearts and minds of those who share an abiding faith in the possibilities of making this world a better place."

Burke promised to fight for veterans, seniors, refugees, and others “who have no voice to fight for themselves.”

To read the full The New York Times story, click here.

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