A 30-year veteran of the Norwalk, CT Police Department was accidentally shot last year by a fellow officer during a routine training exercise. The 9mm bullet is still lodged in his chest. Complications he has experienced include blood clots, a partial blockage of his heart and permanent nerve damage in his right hand. His doctors also say that he will need a kidney transplant to survive.
The fact that he has twice been denied workers’ compensation coverage over these issues flies in the face of current trends when it comes to presumptions for first responders. The Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission has determined that “an underlying health problem,” Type 1 diabetes, is the cause of his continuing issues.
This is ironic, as many efforts nationwide the last few years appear to have been geared to declare any and all health issues compensable for first responders.
I have not been supportive of this particular movement. While I certainly believe we need to protect our first responders, I find much of the legislation granting automatic presumptions for cancer and heart conditions to be unreasonable in nature. Throw in broad allowances for PTSD now available in many states for first responders, and we find we are now creating a two-tiered categorization of injured workers. Particularly in those states that do not offer mental benefits under comp, employees that experience traumatic events on the job may get no assistance, whereas first responders coming in after the fact have a plethora of benefits available to them. Fundamentally that is not fair; an irony given the fact that it is a situation created out of a misguided sense of fairness.
All that aside, however, the bullet in this cop’s chest did not just magically appear. It is there as the result of a direct workplace accident, and the denial over comorbidities flies in the face of standards that have been in place many years. Employers across the nation have been dealing with these issues; weight loss, diabetes, smoking cessation and more. All are routinely now required to be dealt with as part of a workers’ compensation claim in order to treat the underlying compensable injury. It is the “whole person” approach to managing benefits within the system.
I’m not suggesting that standard in itself is particularly fair to employers, but it is the current standard in the system. And not outside the realm of possibility that these issues have all been triggered by the accident event itself.
Therefore, I find the denial in this case to be inconsistent with the facts as normally applied in these cases. Connecticut is one of those states with special provisions for firefighters and law enforcement related to heart attacks when on the job. If this officer had experienced a cardiac event at that training exercise instead of getting shot by a co-worker, he may not be having the difficulties getting approval for his treatment.
I find that ironic, and somewhat unfair. Especially today, when benefits would likely be awarded for events far less connected to the actual job.