As the countdown draws us closer to this year’s Police Week, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world are finalizing plans, organizing itineraries, and arranging schedules. Many of these officers will be attending in an official capacity to mourn their fallen comrades in solemn ceremonies, others make the annual pilgrimage to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie of a unique Brotherhood, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Still others come to partake in the revelry and festivities of tent city and the DC nightlife. A select few make it a point to counter that by witnessing their faith to their fellow officers during their Police Week stay.
No matter the reason for attending Police Week, all are touched and reminded of the sacrifices made in the past year by their Brother and Sister officers through the weeklong series of events, processions, and dinners. Not one of these officers, however, will attend to honor any of their Brother and Sister officers that have been catastrophically wounded in the line of duty, their career ending as a result. None will be attending to celebrate the fact that any of these Wounded Heroes were “lucky” enough to have survived their injuries. None will be in DC to bring awareness to the dearth of benefits and lack of recognition afforded to these hurting men and women. Not one of these thousands of officers will be there to help cast a shining light upon the dark shadowy corners that these battered and broken fellow officers have been relegated to.
As a profession, we in law enforcement have abdicated our responsibility to these Wounded Heroes. We have shunned these courageous men and women who have faithfully served their communities but were injured beyond repair, bringing their law enforcement careers to an untimely end. They wrote the same blank check that each of us did when we raised our right hands and swore an oath to protect and serve our society. The fact that their checks were only partially cashed should not be their downfall and their scourge.
Law enforcement and society, should be glorifying and honoring these forgotten men and women, giving them their rightful place as standard bearers for honor, duty, and courage. We have been so very selective in which broken warriors we have bestowed this rare honor upon. The late NYPD Detective Steven McDonald was one who was rightfully honored after he was relegated to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Because of this, Detective McDonald’s sacrifice has not been forgotten.
Unfortunately, for so very many others in wheelchairs, such as Deputy Adam Pierce, Officer James Kuzak, or Officer Paul Meyer, accolades and honors were not afforded to them. Instead, they, along with thousands of other variously injured officers have ever so slowly faded into the background of life, their service, sacrifice, and ensuing struggles forgotten by not only society, but also by the very co-workers these Wounded Heroes would have given their lives for. How could we ever, as a profession, expect the general public to grasp the gravity of this problem if we have not yet done so ourselves?
This year, the founders, directors, and volunteers of the Wounded Officers Initiative will descend upon DC to help change that. Each is either an active or former LEO, or the family member of an LEO. We will be assisted by several Wounded Officers themselves in helping to bring awareness to their plight, their struggle, their being forgotten. Collectively we will help honor the other half of why Police Week and Peace Officer’s Memorial Day were created, which is to honor the “disabled.” For over thirty years, the families of our fallen have benefitted from the pioneering efforts of a then-radical band of police widows who laid the groundwork for the myriad of benefits that are now afforded these grieving families.
These benefits range from PSOB payments, to full pensions for life, family health coverage, as well as free or greatly reduced tuition. For the Wounded Officer, however, these are all but a dream. A Wounded Officer can expect to receive a greatly reduced income in the form of a disability pension, lost health coverage, no educational or tuition assistance, debilitating injuries and an often deteriorating physical condition. In addition to all of this, PSOB payouts for a disability are a rarity.
Added to this financial mess, is a toxic mental mess in the form of trauma, grief, loss, regret, and guilt. Too often the Wounded Officer is left to watch helplessly as his or her world slowly falls apart under the weight of this toxicity, becoming increasingly isolated and hopeless. One of the more common thoughts that we have heard from these Wounded Heroes has been the notion that their families would have been better off had they not survived their incidents.
For the families and spouses of the Wounded, this new “normal” is experienced daily. There is no processing of grief, no moving on, no creating of a new life. Instead, the realities experienced by their Wounded Officer are also experienced by them. They are now the caregiver, breadwinner, child-rearer, chauffer, and whatever else that may be needed by their wounded loved one. They are thrust into a situation that they did not ask for as they now find themselves married to someone other than they did on their wedding day. They are often chastised that they should be “thankful” because their loved one is still alive.
None of this is new, it has been happening to officers across the nation for generations, as has the lack of focus upon the problem. The dedication to changing all of that is new, and that is why the Wounded Officers Initiative will have a presence at Police Week this year and every year thereafter. We are taking up the torch on behalf of our Wounded Brothers and Sisters to bring awareness to their needs, recognition for their sacrifices, and to also advocate on their behalf.
– Jimmy Brown is a former United States Marine, and police officer with NYPD. Jimmy also served as a firefighter with the FDNY and was assigned to the famed Tenhouse at the foot of World Trade Center complex. He is a survivor of the 9/11 attacks and credits his training as a volunteer Peer Support Officer with POPPA (Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance) with giving him the necessary tools and resources to overcome his 9/11 traumas. Jimmy now resides in Central Florida and works full time for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in a non-sworn capacity. He is one of the Co-Founders and current Vice President of the Wounded Officers Initiative, a 501c3 charity, as well as the Director of the BlueLine Peer Support Program™ of WOI.