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.