Imagine this: You are a police officer in a small community. It is YOUR community and you have sworn to protect it. You have been a cop for four years and your salary is about $41,000 a year and if you didn’t work “extra jobs” like security and traffic at High School football games, it would be difficult to provide for your wife and three children. But you make do because you believe that what you are doing is important. You feel proud when you put on your uniform and although your wife worries about you each night when you leave the house, you assure her that you have the training to handle anything that comes your way and you believe in yourself and your abilities and those you work with who back you up.
And then the call that changes your life forever gets broadcast. “Suspicious Person”. You respond to the parking lot where the suspect was last seen and there he is. You radio in that you will be out with the suspect and when you get out of your car and make your approach, the unassuming young man leaning against a light pole suddenly pulls a gun from his waistband. It looks like slow motion as he raises the gun and fires. You feel the impact even as you fire your own weapon. You see him go down but you cannot feel your legs any longer. You are helpless as you lie on the dirty pavement listening to your own harsh breaths as the sirens of your back up approach.
The next few days are a blur of pain and confusion until you are coherent enough to hear the doctor say, “We’ll do the best we can but cannot promise anything”. The Chief comes to visit you as do your partners and your wife is by your bedside. Everyone says “You’ll be okay” “We’ll take care of you” Don’t Worry” but soon you realize that your pay has been reduced by one third because you are no longer working. Your vacation pay and sick time soon runs out and your wife who has had to quit her job to take care of you tells you that there is not enough money to buy food for your children and make the house payment and the car payment. The Chief stops visiting and returning your calls. You soon feel abandoned by your agency and your friends. They have moved on and you are no longer part of that brotherhood you cared so deeply about. You are now a “disabled” cop” and your future is uncertain in every way, especially your financial future.
“Impossible?” you think. This cannot happen to a Law Enforcement Officer in the United States. Wrong. This scenario or one similar will take place throughout the United States more often than anyone cares to talk about. That is why “THE WOUNDED BLUE FOUNDATION” for injured and disabled Law Enforcement Officers MUST become a reality.
They are the forgotten. It is the deepest secret and least acknowledged tragedy in American policing that many law enforcement officers who have been disabled or catastrophically injured in the line of duty are living in poverty, often unable to care for themselves or their families. Abandoned by their agencies and the governments they sacrificed so much for, they are often forced to seek legal recourse for medical care they are entitled to. Their spouses or families may have to give up their own jobs to care for them, throwing them further into debt or poverty. Because of the lack of medical resources available to them, they often languish in constant pain and humiliation. In the words of one officer’s wife whose husband suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was shot in the head while he was still on probation,“ If he had died, his struggles would be over. Now he is helpless and knows it. His soul is tortured as is his body and no one cares.”
THE PROBLEM: There are approximately 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. 80% have less than twenty officers. Each agency has a Chief or Sheriff and political leadership of the city, county, state or local government. Each is also governed by state and local Workers Compensation laws as well as in many cases union negotiated contracts. What that means in terms of “on duty injuries” for instance, is that “Officer A” in New York City who has 3 years of service is shot and permanently disabled. That officer will receive full medical benefits for life as well as 2/3 pay of a Police Officer who is at the top of that rank’s pay scale, tax free. If however you take “Officer B” in Nevada who also has three years of service and suffers the same disabling injury, he will receive no pension but will receive approximately $4,000 dollars tax free per month and medical benefits only for the injury suffered on duty. Not many families can survive on that and when you consider the cost of health care, that alone will take a significant amount of the income. The reality is that in some states, they will not even get that much and in addition may have to go through an extended legal or administrative battle to receive what they are entitled to BY LAW and that causes even more heartache and stress.
The reality is that there is an incredible disparity in how injured and disabled law enforcement officers are treated within our nation. Often the injured officer receives inadequate or sub par medical treatment as the agency forces them to be treated by medical personnel who are influenced politically or financially by the governing body for cost control reasons. This can lead to injuries worsening and physical conditions deteriorating and if there is not a union (as is often the case) the officers simply have to accept whatever the agency or city offers. Poor medical treatment and disruptions to pay are all too prevalent which lead to draining the savings of the affected officer and their family causing crushing financial burdens. Besides the physical injuries and accompanying issues, more often than not Post Traumatic Stress Injury also results from the events that caused the physical injuries and in fact it may be the PTSI that IS the disabling injury. It is an unfortunate fact that many law enforcement agencies and their leaders attach a stigma to PTSI. Some refuse to approve treatment resulting in a host of other problems including suicide. The scope of the injustice facing the men and women who proudly serve their country and their communities relating to on-duty physical and emotional injuries and disablement is almost unfathomable. This issue has never been addressed nationally or fundamentally.
WHAT CAN BE DONE? Our nation owes the injured and disabled law enforcement officers in this country a debt that can never be repaid. Just as for those who serve in our Armed Forces, the care and benefits afforded to them should be of the highest quality and easily accessible. That will require a concerted effort by the law enforcement leadership of this nation and the Federal Government but those who serve cannot wait for the government to do “the right thing”. There are a number of charitable organizations that have been instrumental in assisting military veterans who have been injured and disabled. Now It is time for “THE WOUNDED BLUE FOUNDATION” to be created.
MISSION: “To identify and assist law enforcement officers who have been injured or disabled in the line of duty to 1) get the quality care they need 2) advocate on their behalf for benefits they are entitled to 3) assist with legal representation 4) assist with emergency funds 5) lobby on their behalf for positive changes in existing laws.