Newtown police officers will be fully covered by the town's insurance program when they seek care for mental or emotional impairment, including post-traumatic stress disorder, thanks to a statute in state law that allows for worker's compensation in extraneous circumstances. The coverage will allow officers affected by the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to receive the treatment they need.
State workers' compensation laws did not require CIRMA, the insurance program, to provide benefits. But the company chose to do so anyway, said Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe.
"They have decided to apply that statute in this case, even though they don’t have to," he said. "The statute allows CIRMA to accept a portion of the claims and can be used as a blueprint for moving forward so that officers do not have to worry about medical expenses related to the tragedy."
Kehoe told Patch he is informing officers of the decision.
"As of today, having spoken with many of the officers here, they understand that they are indeed going to be covered," he said.
Requests were filed in early January, and companies have 28-30 days to determine whether claims are valid. While Kehoe says CIRMA denied claims under the worker's compensation law as a "legal point," they chose to apply claims according to the other statute.
The passage -- Section 31-294H of Connecticut General Assembly Statues -- outlines how benefits for police and firefighters who suffer emotional distress thanks to deadly use of force or witnessing traumatic events "shall be limited to treatment by a psychologist or a psychiatrist who is on the approved list of practicing physicians."
Newtown's officers have now all been told that their medical claims will be accepted and that CIRMA will cover "100%" of medical expenses stemming from mental health treatment related to the shooting, Kehoe said. This could cover anywhere from 12 to 18 of Newtown's 45 sworn police officers, he said. About a dozen officers are currently suffering from PTSD, according to the department.
Kehoe said he expects this means even officers on long-term leave will receive all the help they need to recover in the future. At a Feb. 5 police commission meeting, he told the Newtown Police Commission that five officers are still out on leave.
"I don't see this as a worry," he said. "They clearly gave us an answer they're going to cover these medical expenses with that. If you have a permanent disability, there's other parts of the statute that have to kick in."
"CIRMA will meet the coverage required by current statutes, no question about that," said company public relations director Kevin Maloney.
The move comes as police officials mull an increase in staff to provide for Sandy Hook-related coverage. At a Friday meeting, the department said it would likely need at least 11 new officers to cover the additional work load incurred since the shooting, including armed school guards at each of Newtown's public and private schools.