Until four days ago, Cpl. Omar Delgado was lauded as a hero for being one of the first police officers to respond to the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016. Earlier this week, however, he was fired with no explanation as to why. He had only months to go before he would be entitled to his full pension and benefits (Officer Who Developed PTSD Following Pulse Nightclub Massacre to Lose His Job, TIME, December 7, 2017).
Immediately after the shooting, Delgado was able to return to patrol duty, but eventually took a desk job. According to his doctor, Delgado’s mental health is a factor in losing his job, as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) makes him unfit to return to full duty. That’s why he’s calling on Florida lawmakers to do more to support police officers and first responders who develop PTSD on the job.
On Tuesday, a bill that requires workers compensation insurance to cover mental health treatment for first responders with PTSD did move forward in the Florida Senate committee in Tallahassee. It’s possible this bill will be heard by the legislature in the session beginning Jan. 9. Last year, a number of similar proposals died before advancing to the floor for a vote.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lauren Book, R-Plantation, noted during the committee meeting that “More police officers commit suicide as a result of PTSD than are killed at the hands of [people who commit crimes].”
She’s right. A survey of more than 4,000 first responders found that 6.6 percent had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the rate of the general population, according to a 2015 article in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.
Our first responders are devoted to helping and providing support to the public, which often leads to the prioritization of their own mental health taking a backseat. But they are in critical need of mental health treatment and services, so we must know how to best support them. We must create a space for them to feel comfortable to ask for help. Through training in Mental Health First Aid, we can learn to recognize and respond to the unique mental health challenges faced by first responders.
Let’s give back to first responders for everything they have given us. #BeTheDifference in the life of one of our heroes.