This morning’s journey to begin the day feels like any other. Our minds are amazing machines! We become conditioned and prepared for any new normal that we experience. After a time, we do not remember a time when we once jumped out of bed at the sound of a telephone or pager without a second thoughts donning our uniforms and heading out the door to answer the call of duty. However, this morning’s journey is more about endurance and stamina than any late night call-out. For today, I am a disabled LEO working harder than ever to serve my family as I carry the scars of my service through another day.
The Past Is Not Always In The Past
Unlike those LEOs currently serving, there is no squad room humor or banter to take our minds away from that last worst call. The support group and family that we knew would always be there for us, seems to be distant and often uninvolved.
We understand though. Our disabilities remind those still on the street that bad things not only happen to bad people. Bad things can happen to LEOs and our lives can change in an instant.
That last worst call is, many times for us, the last taste of law enforcement we will ever have. No more running the roads looking for bad guys, no more adrenaline rushes when the game is on, and never again will we feel the pride only LEOs know when the good guys win. While we all knew we would put away the badge someday, this is not what we expected and never what we wanted for ourselves or our families.
Where Is The Law We Know?
On our last day on the street, we were experts in criminal law and traffic law and could hold our own on discussions of criminal procedure. However, now we spend our time immersed in the strange world of workers compensation, special security and disability Law.
What happened to the person we were; the one who answered questions about the law for friends and family? We were the ones who knew the answers. Now it seems we only have the questions and the answers are never clear.
On the street, we dealt with lawyers. We saw them in court or around the department. Like any other group of folks, there were some we liked and called our friends and others we avoided. Now we meet with new lawyers we never met before and most of our old friends with law degrees have little to offer in the way of advice.
The law once seemed like a comfort to us. It set the rules for our mission. We may not have liked some of the laws, but we had a framework that gave structure to our daily activities. Now the law is frightening and gray with too many “it depends” and “the timeline is not clear.” We are dependent upon strangers in law offices with the most important decisions in our lives. All we can do is trust that they are honest and will do their best.
Retirement has become the most frightening word we know
As rookies, we spent the time between calls joking about how we would never retire! Why would we leave the job we loved? Why would anyone ever give this up?
As time passed, we sat with those same friends accepting that one day we would look forward to retirement. Our conversations with our families actually contained discussions of plans “after we leave the department.” Now, that has all changed.
For us, retirement brings uncertainty and financial insecurity. For us there is a reality of lost healthcare, lower wages, and the realization that our identity as LEOs slipping is slowly farther away.
For many of us, retirement came and went without much to celebrate. There was no party, no cake with friends, and for some, no retired badge and ID. For some, retirement came in a letter through the mail or worse, a phone call from a human resources staff member we never met.
From Standing Tall to Barely Holding On
As our savings dwindle, our spouse works longer hours, and our children look for scholarships for college, we are reminded of the days when we were the pillar of strength within our families. When times were tough, we worked more hours, found extra jobs, and found a way to close the money gap. When things went bump in the night, our families looked to us for safety and security. It was expected that we would be up first and be there to confront any threat. Now, just as we have lost the ability to confront the attackers in our homes, we are no longer called upon to protect our neighbors.
One day, as the financial reality of being disabled hits us, we realize that there are so many resources for the families of LEOs who are killed in the line of duty. There are scholarships for the spouse and children, tax relief, and survivor funds. For us, there are a few options for benefits that possibly allow us to hold our own.
Finding a Path to Survival and the Future
About one year after that last call, I came to grips with the fact that I would never be a LEO again. There would be no more squad meetings, no more hot calls, no more joking with the only people who seemed to understand us. Despite the incredible hardships described above, it was not the loss of the job that hurt the most. For most, it was the loss of identity. For it we could not be a LEO anymore, what would we be?
One day a call comes through. It is the voice of a stranger telling us about a group that provides peer counseling for us and our spouse and a retreat for our entire family. There is no cost to us, just the effort to take the journey. However, there is more than that. There is the risk that we will travel a great distance only to be let down, but after a dozen looks at the website, many more calls with these strangers, and my family and I are on the way to a retreat completely sponsored from door to door by Hunting For Heroes (H4H).
Maybe it was meeting other LEOs who are going through the same difficulties, or perhaps it was the time away from the daily routine that has become all too familiar, but something changed that weekend. One of our sons summed up his experience telling a H4H volunteers that the best time about his weekend was, “No one is asking me what is wrong with my dad.” For my spouse it was making friends with other spouses and expanding their support base. All that was great but for me, it was simple: they made me feel like a cop again.
Hunting For Heroes: A Call to Action
The stories and examples contained in this article are real and come from the heroes we have helped. The sentiments are far too common and the plight of our disabled LEOs is unacceptable. There are no national statistics to tell us just how many LEOs have been forced to leave the profession due to a duty related injury. We know that we have about 100 LEOs and their families on our waiting list.
Reach out and help us find the disabled LEOs in your community. Let us help them continue on their journeys with the strength and pride that still resides within them. As we all learned, there is no such thing as giving up. This fight they are in is long and tough, but they are not alone. Join H4H as we live our motto, “Taking Care of Our Own.” Reach out through our website, www.huntingforheroes.org and donate what you can and volunteer with one of our events. Come meet one of our heroes and your life will never be the same.
This year during Police Week, we join you in remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We also ask you to remember those who survived those horrific encounters we read about. Remember that not everyone who survives the call returns to work.
You can find the H4H folks at the 61st Biennial Conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Cincinnati, Ohio from August 11-15, 2013. I’ll be there meeting people and signing books. I’m honored to serve as a Board Member for H4H. Stop by, meet a hero, and learn more about H4H.
Lance LoRusso is an attorney, former LEO and founder of LoRusso Law Firm, PC in Marietta, Georgia. He is the General Counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and author of a blog, www.bluelinelawyer.com. He speaks at many conferences for law enforcement on use of force, responses to critical incident, and other topics of interest to law enforcement. His book on critical incidents entitled, “When Cops Kill: The Aftermath of a Critical Incident” is available through www.whencopskill.com. Profits from this book will support law enforcement charities such as www.huntingforheroes.org. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (bluelinelawyer or lancelorusso).