'Our Officers Shouldn't Suffer for Doing Their Job'

About a dozen Newtown police officers who initially responded to the Sandy Hook School shooting suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.


For the Newtown police officers who first responded to the shooting that took the lives of 20 small children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, healing is a slow process. About a dozen are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to police officials.

On Tuesday night, Chief Michael Kehoe told the Newtown Police Commission that five officers are currently out with PTSD, a potentially debilitating condition that could include flashbacks or increased agitation.

Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk said at one point seven officers were out at the same time, adding some have come back to work only to realize they were not mentally ready to return.

"Some guys could be ready tomorrow," Ruszczyk said. "Some guys may never be ready."

One officer has been out since the tragedy on Dec. 14.

"The town insurance company hasn't offered us anything," Ruszczyk said.

First Selectman Pat Llodra told Patch the town doesn't have the authority to change the insurance policy.

"We’re still hoping the state legislature finds a way," she said. "Their intention was to create a fund of private appropriations that could be used to make sure any first responders wouldn’t suffer a loss of income ... We want the state to be able to do that, because it’s not within the power of the town."

When officers run out of sick leave, said Llodra, there "might be a gap" before they are able qualify for the long-term disability that would allow them to receive full payduring the potentially lengthy recovery period.

The town added a one-page memorandum of agreement to the police labor contract allowing for the extension of sick days. Short-term disability pays for 66.7 percent of an officer's pay for each day s/he is out. Now an officer can use each sick day to make up the difference for three days' pay rather than one.

"I hope the town will be open minded," said Ruszczyk. "At times the contract didn't address an issue and at that point we were out of luck."

'A Lot of Promises'

The police union is lobbying the state legislature to include PTSD in long-term disability coverage.

"So far we've gotten a lot of promises, but little action," Ruszczyk said. But he added his belief that state officials will get it done, just not as soon as he would like.

During Tuesday night's Police Commission meeting, Ruszczyk thanked members for their support. Any shortfalls for officers' medical coverage or living expenses is being made up by the police union.

Ruszczyk said the union's fund is healthy thanks to generous donations since the Sandy Hook School shooting. But by meeting the needs of five to seven officers, he said that could quickly change.

Town firefighters held a boot drive last weekend to benefit the officers, Ruszczyk said, adding that was a big help.

Ruszczyk believes the police response to the school shooting incident could not have been any better.

"The guys who responded on the 14th did an amazing job," Ruszczyk said. "It could have been worse if they didn't respond aggressively as they did."

Those wishing to make a donation to the police union to support the officers suffering from PTSD may send checks to Newtown Police Union, 3 Main St., Newtown CT 06470.

Sam Mihailoff February 07, 2013 at 03:09 PM
Just because someone wears a badge does not make them immune to such horror...I spoke with someone who described PTSD. My initial contact was in regards to myself being so immensely afftected 12-14. Think about PTSD like a pebble tossed into a still pond...the ripples gradually get smaller the farther from the epicenter, but can have a far reaching effect.
Joe February 07, 2013 at 03:41 PM
This is such a sad story. How is it possible that we are leaving these guys behind while the community rebuilds itself? There are $million$ collected sitting in some fund somewhere with some committee holding a tight grip on it. Give these guys some $ so they can at least cope with the financial strain of being out of work. This is not unlike the SHS teachers story. They are expected to help the kids and parents get back to 'normal' yet they are being given nothing to get themselves back to 'normal'. A few group therapy sessions and a boxed lunch and 'get back to teaching'. The stories of broken lives coming out of this are just so sad. I hope, as a caring community, we can take care of these people.
Mary Thomas February 07, 2013 at 05:29 PM
Re the boot collection: Initially my husband arrived home on Saturday morning after an errand and was very surprised to be approached for a donation for the police department. Later, we were at the traffic light at the Reed School and happily contributed more to the fund, but I did have to ask the gentlemen holding the boot "Why isn't the Town doing something about this need?" I have been told by people who worked at the Sandy Hook Fire Dept. for days on end after the tragedy that the first responders "saw things no human being should ever have to see." So of course each and every one of these first responders should have our assistance as they suffer the PTSD that follows such a horrific incident. Give them long or short-term therapy, give them financial assistance, and do it now!
Barbara Ruether February 07, 2013 at 06:24 PM
If we had universal health coverage such as most industrialized nations provide their citizens, these officers would not be begging to receive the care they deserve in this situation. It is terrible to ignore the needs of anyone who has suffered and been required to serve in such a horrendous situation. It is similar in Aurora, Colorado, for both the survivors and officers who were injured during the James Holmes shooting in the dark theatre. Many injured do not have health insurance to cover the mighty injuries. It is time for Americans to look at their priorities in terms of human life. With Respect Barbara Ruether
MK February 07, 2013 at 07:08 PM
It's amazing how quickly Pat was able to secure a grant for the businesses in Sandy Hook, but yet she as done nothing but give nice sound bites about the police. Til this day she has not once come down to the police dept. to check in on the officers, not once!
Gary Doski February 07, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Just publish the name of the insurance company that will not help them. Anyone that has ins. with this company will drop them post haste! They will help the first responders, or they will loss a lot of business!
Big Family February 07, 2013 at 10:56 PM
Something should absolutely be done for all the first responders and done now. It IS time for "Americans to look at their priorities in terms of human life"... Do the aborted Babies count too?
JS February 07, 2013 at 11:19 PM
Well Gary since you asked the town's insurer for workers compensation is CIRMA...aka CT Interlocal Risk Management Agency. It is a non-profit risk management pool...similar to a credit union. It is funded by tax payers, underwrites their own policies and does its own claims management. You can google them. It is essentially owned by CT's own municipalities yet they qon't cover the claims. How messed up is tgat?
yoda February 07, 2013 at 11:30 PM
NOW, NOW Pat is very busy I assure you that you are all on her mind, she is getting pulled in so many directions, I’m sure she will make it to the dept! Malloy was the one that made sure those grants were secure.
Cynthia K. Fulton-Tinawi February 10, 2013 at 02:12 AM
Please, please get all first responders and folks involved in this tragedy help. One of the best forms of therapy includes a counselor(s) well versed with EMDR. The longer these folks go without help, the longer their recovery will be. Will SOMEBODY do the right thing for once?
Natalena Block February 14, 2013 at 05:45 AM
There is empirical evidence that shows EMDR is not as effective as many would believe. As a crisis intervention specialist who has worked in emergency department for the last 10 yrs, I can say there are several stages one experiences. In a acute crisis a person may experience a period of psychological disequilibrium, with symptoms of shock, anxiety,disbelief,anger,helplessness, low self-esteem and depression.They may present as confused,agitated, incoherent, disorganized, withdrawn,or apathetic. iT IS IMPORTANT AN INDIVIDUAL SEEK EMERGENCY CRISIS INTERVENTION FROM AN EXPERIENCED SPECIALIST. Timely, group Debriefing Stages are necessary to promote understanding and expedite recovery from acute symptoms, for first responders. Licensed crisis intervention clinicians identify many factors of each crisis stage and help individuals cope with acute and post traumatic stress disorder. Natalena B.Block LCSW Newtown taxpayer and former resident.


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