by Jon Melegrito | January 11, 2013
First responders expect to witness crime scenes with casualties as part of their job. They are also expected to rescue survivors and attend to the wounded and injured.
They don’t run away from danger. They go to it. It’s their job, they are proud to say. And they carry on the next day, performing their duties with dedication and courage.
But walking into a horrific scene like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were repeatedly shot and killed and many others injured, is something else entirely. That kind of horror is simply unimaginable.
To the 15 police officers who rushed to the school that day, it was by all accounts the worst crime scene they’d ever walked into. They were in shock for days. In the aftermath of the massacre, a few of these officers – all members of the Connecticut Council of Police Unions (AFSCME Council 15) – are suffering from severe emotional distress and have been unable to return to work. Traumatized by the senseless shootings, these officers had to take extended time off in order to recover.
Unfortunately, post-traumatic stress is not covered by workers’ compensation benefits under the town’s current statute. Council 15 is working with local officials, state legislators and the governor’s office for a change in state law that would provide emotional trauma benefits and allow police officers to take more time to recover. The 2013 legislative session opened Wednesday.
“These officers have been unable to function due to trauma,” says Eric Brown, an attorney for Council 15. “But under the circumstances, they are forced to use sick and vacation time and could soon be at risk of going without a paycheck. The emotional loads they’re carrying far exceed anything they could imagine. We need to support them in every possible way.”
State Rep. Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee, has indicated his support for such a measure. “The circumstances are so horrific in Newton,” he said. “We need to protect those first responders and give them all the help we can give them.”
The Newtown Board of Police Commissioners is also supportive. In a resolution passed last week, the board said that “fairness and compassion dictates” the law be changed to provide appropriate benefits to those who suffered physical and emotional injury “as a consequence of their heroic efforts” on the job.
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