Imagine faithfully serving your police department and your community for three decades, just to have everything that you’ve worked for taken away in an instant without any warning whatsoever.
That’s exactly what happened to a Norwalk, Conecticut Police Officer last year when the officer was accidentally shot following a day long training on the firing range. The resulting complications — a bullet permanently lodged inside his body, a partial blockage of a heart valve and lifelong nerve damage — forced him to retire at age 51 – well before he otherwise would have.
Despite the obvious lasting impact that this errant bullet has had on his life – as well as the lives of his wife and five children – the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission has twice taken the hardline stance that the accident wasn’t impactful enough to grant him the benefits he had rightfully earned after 30 years of service as a committed and dedicated police officer. The Commission, in their infinite wisdom, saw fit to cite his Type 1 diabetes, and not the damaging bullet that he took at the hands of a fellow officer at the training session, as the source of his problems and ultimate disability. Interestingly enough this underlying illness had never been an issue before, yet it is the basis on which his police department and the City of Norwalk are using to avoid helping one of their own and paying him the benefits that he is entitled to. Sadly, the Norwalk Officer’s situation is not an anomaly and cases like this where benefits are denied to permanently disabled officers seem to be occurring more often than not.
Nearly three years ago, a Philadelphia Police Officer was on patrol in his cruiser when a gunman ambushed him and fired three shots directly into his left arm. Despite his serious injuries, the officer bravely returned fire and struck the suspect prior to his being captured by a fellow officer. Eleven surgeries later, he’s been left with only the limited use of his left arm.
Still, the Philadelphia Police Department expects him at work every day after determining that his injuries aren’t deemed permanent in nature. Really? He could retire, but doing so would cost him 30 percent of his salary, which he needs to provide for his family and pay his ever increasing medical bills directly resulting from the violent attack against him.
Both of these officers have received a raw deal. They, and far too many others just like them, deserve to be treated better – much better. That’s why the Violently Injured Police Officers Organization (VIPO) is working tirelessly to make a lasting change in this critical area. Officers who risk their lives each and every day — whether participating on a dangerous raid, performing a motor vehicle stop, participating in a training exercise or by simply putting on their uniform — should be able to do so knowing their department has their back if they ever get injured protecting those that they were sworn to serve.
We know that our families are entitled to a host of deserving statutory benefits – both state and federal – when officers are killed in the line of duty, but those laws do not go far enough. It is time for Legislators, Governors, Managers/Mayors and police departments through their chiefs to step up and do the right thing to ensure that wounded officers left permanently disabled aren’t left abandoned, feeling mistreated, and bearing the financial burden on their own without the support that they deserve.
Det. Mario Oliveira (Ret)
Violently Injured Police Officers