Imagine for a moment being one of the half dozen local police officers who were the first responders to the shooting massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Now consider that those officers, under current law, may not qualify for workers’ comp for counseling.
A Connecticut state lawmaker hopes to change that.
Connecticut law provides workers’ comp benefits for counseling for police officers who are mentally or emotionally impaired by “use of deadly force or subjection to deadly force in the line of duty.” Firefighters who witness the death of another firefighter also qualify.
But the Newtown massacre didn’t involve use of deadly force by or against police. The gunman shot himself before police got to him.
State Rep. Stephen Dargan (D), co-chair of the legislature’s public safety committee, wants to amend Connecticut’s workers’ comp law.
Expanding what’s covered under workers’ comp is always a concern because of cost to employers. But Dargan tells The Hartford Courant that if the scope of the expansion is limited to circumstances similar to the Sandy Hook shootings, a change in the law might be possible.
Newtown Police Commissioner Joel Faxon supports expanding the law, as does Connecticut State Police Col. Daniel Stebbins.
Newtown is “much different because it involves children,” Stebbins told The Courant.
Counselors have been available to the first responders.
Amending the law – narrowly
Connecticut has had recent experience with extending its workers’ comp law because of a traumatic incident involving police.
Two years ago, Stamford, CT, police officer Frank Chiafari responded to the scene of an attack by a chimpanzee on a woman. The animal tore off the woman’s face and hands, but she survived.
When Chiafari arrived on the scene, the raging chimp opened a door to his police car and came at him. The officer shot and killed the animal. Chiafari was the first person on the scene to see the badly injured woman.
He applied for workers’ comp for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder but was denied benefits. Chiafari had used deadly force, but it was on an animal not a human. That’s why his comp was denied.
The City of Stamford covered Chiafari’s out-of-pocket medical expenses. And Connecticut amended its workers’ comp law to add violent attacks by an animal. The bill was drafted so it wouldn’t include instances involving rabid smaller animals such as raccoons or when an officer has to shoot a deer that’s been badly injured in a car crash.
Do you think Connecticut should amend its workers’ comp law to cover first responders who face incidents like the Newtown massacre? Let us know what you think in the comments below.