How many of you know the names of the people involved in the incident in Ferguson? The park in Cleveland, Ohio? The pool party in McKinney, Texas
The NYPD officer stabbed in the head? The Revere officer knocked unconscious when he asked a speeding driver to slow down? The officer that committed suicide in his station?
It is my firm belief that more people can name the participants in the first paragraph than in the second. Kenneth Healey was attacked with a hatchet and is now fighting for benefits. Jeremiah Goodwin was able to return to work after being treated at a local hospital. Paul Buchanan committed suicide after failed attempts to find help for his PTSD and fear of losing his job.
You aren’t going to find the names of these men memorialized anywhere. You also won’t find their statistics compiled by the Department of Justice (DOJ), they compile the names of the officers killed in the line of duty; but not if they commit suicide, they’re not relevant. Their data collection would at least double if they did.
Statistics of officers who are mentally and/or emotionally injured aren’t compiled anywhere. It’s been said the task is too daunting. Too daunting? Too complicated? Too many to care to admit? Or do we just not care?
We continue to memorialize the dead. We should. But we should also scream from the tallest building that not everyone is physically dead. There are emotionally dead, there are physically incapacitated and they need to be heard.
Injured on duty? Hurry up, heal and get back out there. Emotionally impaired? Suck it up and get back out there. Permanently disabled? Fight for benefits and receive your retirement credentials in the mail. No, I’m not kidding. This is the norm and not the exception.
Many organizations around the country have popped up to help these officers and to begin to spread the message. But they are small, disconnected from each other and have few resources. There are national organizations for supporting the families of the deceased, but none to support the families of the remains of the living. Although Police Week is a national event which is supposed to honor those who “have lost their lives or have become disabled in the performance of duty”, there is not a single event which honors the disabled. Not one.
Please don’t tell me that there are more dangerous occupations, those occupations receive benefits and are carefully protected by laws. Laws prevent first responders who suffer emotionally from receiving proper help, it’s considered part of their jobs.
Take a look at South Carolina bill 429, workman’s comp will not pay for counseling for first responders if they suffer PTSD (emphasis added). “The provisions of subsection (B)(1) do not apply, however, if the employee is employed as a first responder and the impairment causing the stress, mental injury, or mental illness is medically diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that arises from the first responder’s direct involvement in a significant traumatic experience or situation, without regard to whether the experience or situation was extraordinary or unusual in comparison to the normal working conditions of a first responder’s employment.” They are pleading their case to deaf ears because it will increase premium costs and claims and there is certainly no budget for it. Let’s budget lives and families instead.
What will it take for people to see what is really standing before them? Ask yourself why you are not a police officer. Then ask yourself if you can live without them. Can your neighbor? Your children? Then ask yourself why you can’t see what stands before you. Why can’t you see the men and women who care? The ones that want to help, the ones that go back day after day, the ones that are shot and can’t wait to get back to work because they love being a police officer? Why can’t you see that without judgement? Why can’t we offer them the same benefits and compassion we want for ourselves?
I am going to leave you with quotes from my book and a plea. Read the book (proceeds to LE charities), read every page, you may have to put it down and come back later, many have. You may not be able to finish it, some haven’t. As you are reading it, remember that there are thousands more like them. I couldn’t tell them all, I didn’t have the time or the emotional fortitude. I am running out of words that no one wants to hear. I had to stop because I couldn’t let anyone else in, I couldn’t walk with one more ghost from these stories. Their ghosts walk beside them every day, the ghost of the person they used to be. The ghost of the person they never thought law enforcement would take from them.
“Mario is now the one that needs help getting through things. On June 30, 2015, he suffered a massive stroke as a direct result of the injuries he incurred the day of his shooting. With two bullets still lodged in his body, it’s no surprise. Christy is angry and worried. Mario is depressed and will need more time to process recent events.
With tears in his voice, he called to say that he’s mentally drained; some days he wants to give up because he is sick and tired of fighting. “The old me died that night, I’m not the same person. I’m not the same husband, father or man.” Since the stroke, his vision has become blurred and he gets confused. Although he was initially paralyzed on his left side, he’s gained most of that movement back. Most days, the emotional challenge is greater than the physical.
“When I got shot, my job wasn’t just taken away. I felt like a criminal. The only connection I had to my career was my e-mail, which was gone over night. I was left feeling like I did something wrong. I had no badge, no gun and no connection to the department I had loved for so long. I don’t think they realize what they do to us when they cut us off. It’s hard to live with these injuries knowing that the reason we became injured is no longer part of our lives. We give everything we have to the job and when we are injured, we feel like we no longer exist. That needs to stop. We need better than that; we need to keep our dignity and our sense of accomplishment.”
Maggie cries as she tells these stories, and she has to pause often to compose herself. She does it daily and has become good at it. Watching grown men deflate and cry when they hear bad news is very profound, and it’s something first responders witness all too often. It’s a feeling of defeat, the same feeling the doctors and nurses have when the child is delivered to them and there is nothing they can do. Maggie gets to walk away from the trauma, but the trauma never walks away from her.
Dan feels broken, but not worthless. “In the eyes of man I may have worn out my usefulness but I don’t care what man thinks. Maybe my brain injury is God’s answer to something.”
“My heart beats just like yours. I cry just like you. I have a family just like you. What other profession expects you to hide your emotions and humanity on and off the job? When I arrive at a car accident, do I console the mother first or cover the body of her dead child in the hope she hasn’t seen it yet? What am I supposed to do with all of those memories? I need help just like you.”
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