Let Us Never Forget Our Wounded Heroes

As we begin 2018, we are faced once again with another tragedy in law enforcement. One young deputy murdered, and four others wounded. Ambushed while responding to a call for service. Just like many of you, I am praying for the family and friends of the deputy who died. And just like many of you, I am praying for the four others that were wounded. However; unlike many of you, I am also fearful for the ones who were wounded.

Fearful? Why fearful? Well you see in 2014 I was involved in an eerily similar incident. Disturbance call at an apartment complex, suspect murdered my partner and shot me. Bullets from my side arm killed the suspect. In that moment I entered into a “club” that no first responder ever wants to be a part of. This club literally has tens of thousands of members across the first responder community. We are the wounded officers/firefighters/EMTs. We are the forgotten. Yes that is right I said it, forgotten.

During both my physical and psychological recovery I said more than once, “It would have been better if I had just died.” I know many of other members of this horrible club have often said the same. You may ask, why would you say that. It is simple. If I had died, I would have had a funeral with all the pomp and circumstance of a fallen hero. My wife and daughter would have been showered with the attention they deserved. Memorials would have been erected so my daughter could see that her father was a hero. There is a week in Washington DC to honor me and my family. Financially my daughter would have been set for life.

Now do not get me wrong, my community was a wonderful support to me and my family, please do not misinterpret what I am saying. But, the life of a wounded first responder is not fixed in the couple of weeks/months that support is there. Eventually that support goes away. I mean people do get on with their lives.

At first, everyone is there and patting you on the back and wishing you well, and assuring you that they (your department) will be there for you. But, you find out as I did those statements have an expiration date on them. You see if you do not recover as fast as they think you should, then they begin to look at you in a different light.

While you and your family are forced to fight with Worker’s Compensation or your local government entity to get the care you need so you can get back to some sort of normalcy, words like, “sick lame, and lazy” and “malingerer” begin to be used when your name is mentioned. You now become an empty body that is not on the streets. This is true even if you are ONLY suffering from a physical injury. It is much worse if you suffer from a physical and a psychological injury, or only a psychological injury. People who have never sat down with you to discuss how you are doing, now begin to make assumptions about you. Worse they begin to make career decisions without consulting you. As time goes by, sometimes depending on your department we could be talking only weeks, they begin to look at how to get rid of you.

The department and community you risked your life for, no longer see you as a hero. Instead they see you as a hinderance, detriment, and expendable. Some agencies just out right cut ties, and the local governments are happy to let go. Because in the end you are nothing more than a dollar sign and a position to be filled. Leaving you and your family victimized once again, but now without support.

Those who do not cut ties, make recovery much harder than it needs to be, by continuously putting roadblocks in the way. I like many of you immediately began planning my return to work. But, sometimes no matter how hard we try we are never able to return. Oftentimes it is because our leaders fail to understand or just don’t care about the struggles we undertake every day in our recovery. Thus, they create roadblocks to our return. These roadblocks can be intentional or unintentional, but they are roadblocks all the same.

It is time that our voices are truly heard and our leaders stand up and take notice. Our wounded first responders and their families deserve so much better. Our leaders need to better educate themselves on this issue. Policies need to be created to protect our wounded heroes. Laws need to be enacted so that our wounded first responders are at least given the same care and benefits as our wounded veterans, AND the same protections.

If you are a leader in your agency and you are reading this, I ask you to think about the following: How has our agency truly treated our wounded people? Have I truly sat down with our wounded people and listened to their needs? Have I asked them where our agency can improve? If so, did we make those changes, if not why? Do we have a policy to deal with this issue, at least as a guide? If we do have a policy is it effective?

If you can honestly answer “Yes” to these questions, then you are sadly among the minority, and I truly applaud you and your agency. If you answered “No” to any or all of these questions then please take a moment and set out a plan to address these issues in 2018. Your first responders deserve nothing less.

Michael Ackerman is a 13-year veteran of law enforcement. He holds a masters degree in Justice Administration from Norwich University. He is a respected speaker on the issues of First Responders and Post Traumatic Stress Injury, and Balancing Family and Being a First Responder.