The board of police commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the legislature to expand Connecticut's workers' compensation law to provide benefits for those who might have "sustained physical or emotional injury" as the result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The request was made to ensure that police officers, first responders or school employees involved in the Dec. 14 massacre at the school can apply for benefits.
Connecticut's law does not currently provide compensation to workers who might be emotionally injured while performing their job.
The police commission's resolution, which will be forwarded to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, asks state lawmakers to pass an amendment that would allow police, first responders, and Sandy Hook Elementary School employees to apply for workers' compensation benefits.
"There is, in many people's opinion, a void in workers' compensation laws relative to emotional injury," said Police Commissioner Joel Faxon. "Given that fact, and what the members of this department have done in terms of their response… we feel it's important that the law is changed to address the problems that these first responders and others encounter, what they have encountered, and will encounter going forward."
While Connecticut's workers' compensation laws entitle police officers who are emotionally injured as a result of the "use of deadly force or subjection to deadly force in the line of duty" to benefits, the circumstances at Sandy Hook, where responders walked into rooms filled with bodies, do not make them eligible because deadly force was not used by or against police officers.
"Currently, the town insurance company does not recognize PTSD as a reason to go out on disability," said police union President Scott Ruszczyk, who attended the meeting.
Ruszczyk said there were 13 members of his union who went into the school, either the first officers to arrive or detectives who had to view the bodies as part of the investigation.
"Some of them are not out of work right now, some of them are out of work, and some of them may go out of work next year," he said. "The nature of PTSD is that three years from now it could hit them." Neither Ruszczyk nor Faxon could say how many department members are currently out on leave.
Ruszczyk said that if the legislature doesn't respond to the commission's resolution, the union will try to use donations from the public to offer paid leave to those who need it.
"That's our primary option right now," he said. "We're hoping to get legislation changes, but if that fails, the union will protect these guys and make sure that as long as we have the money, we'll be able to pay their salaries."
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven has called on the state legislature to expand the law during the next legislative and vowed to introduce a bill that would allow those affected by the Newtown tragedy to apply for workers' compensation.
Compensating employees for emotional damage is not the only issue the police commissioners face in the wake of the school shooting. Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe said that providing overtime pay for officers will be expensive.
"This commission submitted its budget prior to this horrible incident on Dec. 14," said Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico said. "The chief and I have met with the first selectman and director of finance to review it." He said the police budget may need to be amended to account for expenditures.