Charitable Fund Falls Short of Helping Newtown First Responders

Attorney says Sandy Hook Worker’s Assistance Fund requires $10M

 

 
 
 

SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press | | Tuesday, October 29, 2013


HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A private charitable fund created to help pay for the mental health care of first responders, teachers and other workers affected by the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school falls short of what's needed to help those with long-term problems, including one police officer who cannot return to work, a union lawyer says.

Connecticut lawmakers created the special Sandy Hook Workers' Assistance Fund this year. They solicited donations from some of the state's largest companies, as well as the general public, to help those affected by the Dec. 14 massacre in which 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down, one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

JEMS Newtown School Shooting Coverage

Though legislators estimated in March that several hundred thousand dollars had already been pledged and predicted more money would follow, just $218,361 was donated as of Sept. 30, according to the state's Office of Victim Services.

Eric Brown, staff attorney for AFSCME Council 15, suggested the fund probably requires $10 million or else a law needs to be passed to provide workers' compensation coverage for mental health-related injuries, including post-traumatic stress. He didn't say how many people he estimated that $10 million would cover.

"The idea of this fund, while it was certainly a good idea and they have given some people an opportunity to pat themselves on the back and say they've done something, is completely inadequate," Brown said.

Many of the workers who could potentially benefit from the fund have access to insurance coverage to help pay for mental health care. Lawmakers created the fund to provide immediate, not long-term, relief to workers who had to take time off but were not compensated or had to pay for counseling and medication, said House Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz.

But with the employment of at least one officer in jeopardy, Brown is seeking more help for the workers.

The officer, who responded to the shooting, is too emotionally traumatized to work and faces possible termination, Brown said. The officer should have a hearing scheduled in coming weeks, he said.

Because the officer, whom Brown would not name, did not suffer a physical impairment on the job, Brown said he is ineligible for a disability retirement.

"We're not talking about a short-term problem," said Brown, adding that other officers report still suffering from nightmares and flashbacks and periodically have to take time off. "We're talking about a long-term problem."

Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe said he could not comment on any particular case but said town officials are looking into the kinds of benefits that may be available to help officers "who cannot be police officers because of this event" and need to leave the force.

"It's certainly a delicate situation for us," he said. "We recognize the sensitivity and we're trying to do the best we can."

Connecticut law generally does not provide workers' compensation benefits for mental or emotional impairments unless they stem from a work-related physical injury or occupational disease.

In the wake of the shooting, state lawmakers considered legislation that would make public employees eligible for workers' compensation if their job led them to witness death, maiming or their immediate aftermath. They would also receive coverage if they were diagnosed with a mental or emotional impairment because of what happened.

The bill, however, died. Lawmakers were concerned about creating an expensive financial burden for municipalities and the state, said Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin. The cost of a single post-traumatic stress case could range from several hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million, depending on circumstances and duration of the claim, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has said.

"It wasn't an area that we could get total agreement on it," Aresimowicz said. But he said he's willing to revisit the issue when the General Assembly reconvenes in February. "I really think it's something we should talk about," he said.

The fund may be saved by a lack of interest. State lawmakers had originally estimated that 150 to 200 employees would be helped by the special account, but so far, just 58 people have applied for funds. Twenty were approved and received a total of $71,294, mostly for lost wages. Only $903.94 was paid for medical losses, a figure that likely includes insurance copayments. The other applicants have yet to submit bills for reimbursement, said Linda Cimino, director of the Office of Victim Services; no applicants were denied.

Though the amount of contributions so far is a concern, the office has not received any new applications lately, Cimino said. The deadline for submitting applications for reimbursement is June 30 and the fund cannot distribute money after Aug. 30, 2015.

"If demand stays as it is, the fund may remain solvent," Cimino said in an email. "But if there is an increase in applications and requests for funds, the balance may not be sufficient."

Legislative leaders said they're committed to raising more donations if it becomes necessary.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Mobile Category: 
News


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, Newtown School Shooting, Sandy Hook shooting, Sandy Hook EMS response, mental health

 
What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

 

 

Get JEMS in Your Inbox

 

Fire EMS Blogs


Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts

 

EMS Airway Clinic

Innovation & Progress

Follow in the footsteps of these inspirational leaders of EMS.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Abilene Loses Helicopter Service

Native Air leaves city with only one air helicopter service.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

D.C. Fire Chief Proposes another Controversial Ambulance Plan

Staffing change will leave immediate neighborhood without fire apparatus.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

FDIC 2014 CHAT: MIKE MCEVOY AND A.J. HEIGHTMAN

Mike McEvoy and A.J. Heightman discuss some new EMS technology at FDIC 2014.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

D.C. Lieutenant in Patient Death May Go Unpunished

Family upset that officer in charge may retire without any discipline.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >


More Product Videos >