Last week the community of Newtown, Connecticut, solemnly commemorated the anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Florida residents were just as shaken as the rest of the country by the events that unfolded that day, one that will probably never leave the hearts and minds of the people directly affected by the tragedy.
Those include the emergency personnel who rushed to the school to find 20 children and six staff members dead. At least 15 of the police officers who responded to the shooting experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, which required them to take time off work. Most of them have returned to duty, but one officer suffered so profoundly that he may never work as an officer again. He has been on long-term disability since the shooting.
Despite his service and the emotional trauma he endured, recently the Newtown police chief recommended terminating the officer's employment. This would mean he would also lose his long-term disability insurance.
But when the news of that possibility came out in a local newspaper, a massive public protest ensued. Interviews with the officer on national television programs and other publicity eventually led the police chief to rescind his recommendation to the Newtown Board of Police Commissioners. Instead, the officer will continue to receive long-term disability insurance under the town's policy for the next two years, and the town will cover the cost in the following 12 years until the officer is eligible for retirement.
The officer himself is quick to point out that he deeply regrets being unable to return to work due to his disabling PTSD. As for the potential termination, he wrote in a letter to the Hartford Courant that he simply wanted the Newtown government to uphold the terms of his original employment contract: "The Town government is doing everything they can to make this more difficult on me and my family simply because they did not get the proper Long Term Insurance Policy that is in line with our Union Contract," he wrote, referring to town officials who balked at the prospect of paying his salary after his long-term disability insurance expired. The police union president agreed that the town is at fault for providing insurance that doesn't cover the terms of police contracts.
Floridians must fight their own, much more private long-term disability battles. While they may not have the backing of an entire town behind them, there are willing legal advocates ready to help.
Source: PoliceOne, "Newtown chief withdraws request to fire officer with PTSD," Dave Altimari, Dec. 19, 2013