Over the weekend, Law Enforcement Today published a story about one of the officers who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting who is fighting for medical benefits for his family.

He’s retired Orlando Police Officer Gerry Realin.

It’s a story that sparked intense emotion on both sides of the aisle – those who believed Realin should get the benefits, and those who didn’t.  After exploring both perspectives… our team at Law Enforcement Today came to a simple conclusion:

We need to start having more conversations about Post Traumatic Stress… and we need to start having them at the federal level to protect our officers.

First, the background.

The Battle

For more than three years, former Orlando Police Officer Gerry Realin and the City of Orlando have been battling over a medical benefits fight after the Pulse nightclub shooting.

On Friday, an Orange County judge ordered a trial without jury to resolve it.

Realin’s pension was awarded without medical coverage for his family three years ago.  This, after he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following his assignment to remove the dead from Pulse nightclub.

His wife, Jessica Realin, told local media that the family medical benefits cost “one-third” of the total pension benefits, roughly $1,700 a month or $23,000 a year.  That’s more than five times the amount he paid before he left the department.

“Five plus doctors chosen by the city, Judge Neal Pitts, the Pension Board, the city’s life insurance company (Standard Life) and the United States Department of Education have already stated and accepted Gerry’s condition,” she said.

The status hearing before Judge Patricia Strowbridge on Friday took only five minutes.

Lakeland attorney Jeff Appel represents Gerry Realin in the case.  He said this is a small part of several layers against the city. Those other layers include a workers compensation case, a civil case seeking $1 million in damages for alleged retaliation by the city and the unpaid health insurance case.

“We’re looking forward to moving the case along as the court requested,” Appel said. “We’re going to do whatever is required to protect Gerry’s interest.”

Strowbridge said during the hearing that her first available court date would be in October.

The next step is that the judge will send several dates to both sides to figure out when the trial will be held.

The city wanted a jury trial, but Attorney Marc Sugarman on Friday agreed to trial by judge.

Appel said the city argues Realin does not meet the medical standard for catastrophic injury.

The city begs to differ. A city spokesperson made a statement to local media:

“The city of Orlando and the Orlando Police Department are committed to the health and well-being of our first responders, who bravely protect our community every day. Mr. Realin is receiving all benefits for which he is eligible.”

The Controversy

A number of officers were upset that this is even being fought in court… but not for the reasons you might imagine.

Shawn Dunlap is the President of the Fraternal Order of Police for Orlando Lodge 25, and sits on the Florida State Lodge Executive Board.  He wrote in to LET to share some more insight.

“Several of my members reached out to me and asked me to clarify some of the information surrounding our benefits here at the Orlando Police Department,” he said.

He detailed what he says the officer is currently receiving.

“Gerry medically retired from the Orlando Police Department and is currently receiving 80% of his salary tax free PLUS cost free medical benefits for himself.”  

Dunlap said he believes the current lawsuit centers around a section of the Florida Police Officer Bill of Rights which states: 

Any employer who employs a full-time law enforcement, correctional, or correctional probation officer who, on or after January 1, 1995, suffers a catastrophic injury, as defined in s. 440.02, Florida Statutes 2002, in the line of duty shall pay the entire premium of the employer’s health insurance plan for the injured employee, the injured employee’s spouse, and for each dependent child of the injured employee until the child reaches the age of majority or until the end of the calendar year in which the child reaches the age of 25 if the child continues to be dependent for support, or the child is a full-time or part-time student and is dependent for support. The term “health insurance plan” does not include supplemental benefits that are not part of the basic group health insurance plan. If the injured employee subsequently dies, the employer shall continue to pay the entire health insurance premium for the surviving spouse until remarried, and for the dependent children, under the conditions outlined in this paragraph. 

Dunlap said he believes the lawsuit is an effort for Realin to have the City of Orlando cover his family’s insurance, not for he himself, as his is already taken care of. 

“It appears your readers feel as if the City of Orlando hung this Officer out to dry and that just is not the case.  We have a long, proven record at FOP Lodge 25 of maintaining a generous compensation package for those who can no longer perform the job as a Police Officer after suffering an on the job injury,” said Dunlap.

Dunlap points out some recent examples of what would be defined as a “catastrophic injury” from the Orlando Police Department.  They include:

  • Officer Kevin Valencia, who was shot in the head, lost an eye, and is still in a coma after a year.
  • Officer William Anderson, who was struck by a vehicle driven fleeing felon on a traffic stop.  Anderson shot the driver as he rolled off the hood.  After several surgeries and long stints in the hospital, Anderson cannot walk without the aid of a cane.

The Problem

Let’s cut through the noise.  Let’s leave aside any personal differences that might exist within departments or between people.  They are irrelevant.  

On both sides of the aisle, you have people fighting for officers and for their families.  I don’t believe this officer is in the wrong.  He’s a father and he’s been through hell and he’s going to fight like hell to provide for his family.

On the flip side, I don’t believe the FOP is in the wrong in worrying that a system could be taken advantage of.  The FOP fights an uphill battle every day to try and protect those who serve and protect.

Here’s what matters.

This is an example of a much bigger problem we face in society these days – and that’s perception about Post Traumatic Stress.  As we can see in the law, it’s still not understood or recognized the way it needs to be to protect those who wear – or wore – a uniform.

Allow me to explain.

If an officer is shot in the leg, we can see the injury.  We can also see the difference between him being shot in the leg vs. losing his entire leg in a car accident.  There’s a measurable, visual and clear difference between the injuries.  While there’s no doubt a pile of emotional challenges that accompany that injury, it’s very easy to see the physical impact.

But the same can’t be said for Post Traumatic Stress.  

Please understand, this isn’t coming from a doctor or an expert.  It’s simply coming from a guy who is friends with and/or interviewed literally hundreds of warriors who battle it.

Take two different men.  Put them in the same horrific massacre.  Doing the same exact job.  For the same amount of time.  They might leave with no physical injuries, but they carry with them a huge burden when they leave.

Weeks after, one of them might be fine.  And one of them might not be.

As I learned from our time with Save A Warrior, a 501c3 that works extremely closely with warriors suffering from PTS, it doesn’t always start with that incident.

For many – and by SAW’s metrics – the majority – Post Traumatic Stress actually started long before their service began.  In many cases, it started with some form of early childhood trauma.

And so those two men in the same massacre with the same job for the same amount of time might have two entirely different reactions.  Because on the surface they were in the same situation.  But in their own minds, one of them was in a much different place.

But we can’t see it.  It’s not a bullet wound vs. a lost leg.  And if we can’t physically measure it, it’s easy to pretend it doesn’t exist.

And so we ostracize the very men and women who are deeply struggling.  Because we don’t know how to handle them.  We don’t know what to say or how to treat the wound.  We don’t know how deep that wound goes or where it starts or where it ends or how to fix it.

And we’re losing them.  

More and more members of our Blue Family are struggling and ignored… asking for help and smacked down… desperate to avoid the pain and overlooked.  

And so they turn to pills.  Or to their pistol.  And then we yell and scream and stomp our feet and declare “Enough Is Enough” and we put up Facebook posts saying if you need help you should ask for it.

And we forget that they did.  They begged for it.  And we ignored them.  Because we had laws that only recognized “catastrophic” as being something physical, but forgetting that sometimes it’s something we can’t see.

Meet A Warrior

I’d like to introduce you to my friend Officer Omar Delgado.

You see, Officer Realin wasn’t the only officer who responded in the early morning hours of June 12th as an armed attacker shot up the inside of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.  

Officer Delgado was one of the first on scene.  And this is HIS story.  Perhaps if we can see through their eyes for just a minute, we’ll realize that in some cases… we need to do a better job of opening our eyes to what we CAN’T see.

“You could smell death in there. You could taste it.”

It was utter chaos.

Omar Delgado was one of the first units inside the Pulse massacre. (Wikipedia)

 

A few months ago, we had the chance to sit down with Omar during the Not All Heroes Wear Capes event at Emergency Operations Proving Grounds in Texas.

Wounded officer and LET Citizen of the Year Houston Gass sat with Omar as he recounted the horrors of that day. The interview can be seen at the end of the article.

As hundreds of people tried to push through the exit of the nightclub door, emergency responders were trying to get inside to stop the carnage as a gunman fired shot after shot.

“Finally I made my way inside the club. And we just all stopped.”

As he called out to the people laying on the floor inside the club, a horrifying realization came over Delgado. Those people laying on the floor… they weren’t faking it. They weren’t playing dead in hopes that the shooter would look past them and seek another target.

They were hit. They were dying, or in most cases – already gone.

The gunman inside the club killed 49 and injured more than 50 others. (Wikipedia)

 

The officers made their way through the dance floor, looking for the gunman, but only seeing the carnage he left behind.

“Orlando is Disney World. The happiest place on Earth. People come here just for that. And… it wasn’t that. It was one of the worst massacres that occurred on U.S. soil.”

But then suddenly, movement. Some of the victims were still alive. Frantically, the officers called for fire crews to come inside and begin helping the wounded.

But they refused. 

Everyone outside the club knew that the gunman hadn’t been taken out yet. He was reportedly hiding out and attempting to fix his jammed weapon as police made entry. He had been using social media and news stories to stay ahead of police. Other crews weren’t coming in. 

That’s when Omar and his fellow officers began pulling injured bodies themselves, doing any and everything they could to save lives.

“I didn’t know who they were. But they were human beings. They were crying for help.”

Then the phones began to ring as loved ones heard the news of the active shooter situation. Omar was surrounded by the sound, all in unison, all people hoping that their friends and family members hadn’t been inside Pulse that night. 

Omar described the horrific scene when one phone that continuously was ringing floated across the floor in a pool of blood…

“Then it’s just… pure silence.”

49 people died more than 50 others were injured before the gunman was killed in a shootout with police.

Surveillance footage was eventually released showing graphic footage of the attack as it unfolded.

 

A lawsuit was filed last June, going after Orlando officers who stood outside the club while the gunman continued his warpath inside.

“While people, unarmed, innocent were inside a club getting absolutely massacred by a crazed gunman there were a bunch of people … with guns, with the training and capability to take that shooter out,” Solomon Radner, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, told ABC News.

But police rushed into the club a mere six minutes after the gunman began firing.

The city fired back, issuing a statement saying, “after the horrific act of hate inside the Pulse nightclub, our community continues to mourn the 49 lives taken and provide support for all those impacted. On the morning of June 12, 2016, federal, state and local law enforcement officers and first responders put themselves in harm’s way to save as many lives as possible.”

Omar told his story with tears in his eyes. (LET)

 

Officer Omar Delgado told us he’ll never be the same after that night.

“I came home that morning a different person,” he said. “I don’t know how I drove home.”

He said that once he got there he sat inside his car for over 15 minutes outside, covered in blood, lost in a world of thought. 

We pray for Omar. We pray for every victim and their families. We pray for the other officers who faced the same trauma, and those that will in the future. And we say thank you for their service and bravery.

Take an exclusive look at this special episode of Thin Blue Blood as Omar tells his story.

For the full episode and more exclusive video content inside the world of law enforcement, emergency responders and veterans, check out our brand new video streaming platform.

Law Enforcement Today is proud to be partnered with Transformations Treatment Center. 

Transformations Treatment center has a nationally acclaimed Veterans and First Responders Treatment program,where law enforcement, firefighters, veterans and all first responders receive the separate and highly specialized treatment. Their program features first responders and veterans helping first responders and veterans.

Call (888) 991-9725 online at www.transformationstreatment.center.