Senator Witkos Urges Support for Sandy Hook First Responders [Hartford Courant]

March 7, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant on March 7, 2013

Lawmakers Create Fund For Sandy Hook First-Responders

Private Donations Will Help Cover Lost Wages, Medical Costs

By Daniela Altimari

A unified legislature on Wednesday established a special fund to help Newtown responders who suffered psychological issues related to the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The fund will provide short-term assistance by covering lost wages as well as the cost of certain medications, treatments and insurance co-pays.

The money will come from private donations, not state coffers. Pledges have already been made by Northeast Utilities, the New England Cable Television Association, the Connecticut Bar Association and WWE, among other firms.

“Though this will never erase what’s etched in their minds, if this could provide some level of help … then we did a good thing,” said House Republican Leader Larry Cafero shortly before the measure cleared the chamber on a unanimous vote.

In the Senate, which also approved the measure unanimously, President Donald Williams said the scope of the horror and loss at Sandy Hook has shaken veteran police officers. “Even our first-responders who deal with tragedy on a regular basis are not prepared for the unspeakable horror that occurred in Newtown,” he said.

Some of those workers have been unable to return to their jobs because of lingering trauma from the Dec. 14 shootings, even though they are out of paid sick days and don’t qualify for workers’ compensation, which generally only covers those suffering from physical injuries, not psychological ones.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, a Canton Republican who works as a police officer, said the state needs to do everything it can to help people damaged by the tragedy.

Witkos said he is still haunted by a call more than 20 years ago involving the killing of a 9-year-old. “I saw things in my job that I hope nobody in this chamber ever has to see or bear witness to,” he said. “Sometimes it fades, sometimes it comes back.”

Officials estimate about 150 to 200 people would qualify for the assistance. The list of those covered includes police officers, firefighters and EMTs but also teachers who led frightened children out of the school that day.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Republican who represents Newtown, said the fund is one of several formed to aid the Newtown community.

“They need help,” he said. “It’s only right that we give them that help, without having it cost them vacation days or sick days or extra money out of their pocket … this is the least we can do.”

Several Newtown police officers have been unable to return to work since the schoolhouse massacre. The officers were there so quickly that, as Newtown Detective Jason Frank described it, “when we entered the building, you could still smell the gunpowder. We were there fairly soon.”

Frank and fellow detective Daniel McAnaspie came to the Capitol for a formal announcement about the fund.

“While working that day, if I had fallen down and broken my ankle, I would have been covered immediately from that day through my entire recovery,” McAnaspie said. “I wouldn’t have had to use any of my sick time or my own time. But because they don’t recognize mental illness as a physical injury, they are stating that we are not covered under workers’ comp the way it is written today.”