Police Psychology | Disabled Police Officer or Scammer?

Posted: May 26, 2016 in Stories
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Police Psychology | Disabled Police Officer or Scammer?

Sgt, John R.  Ret. Deputy Sheriff


What is a Disabled Police Officer?  I will tell you. He or she is “Lucky,” “A Scammer,” “Faking It,” “Has Hit The Jackpot,” “ Malingering,” “ Making it Worse Than it is,” “Lazy,” “Trying to Get Out of Work,” and the names go on and on… .  If you have become permanently “Disabled in The Line of Duty” perhaps you have been called one of these names, or similar ones, to your face. I will say you have, most definitely, been called one of these names behind your back.  

On Long Island, New York a police officer gets three-quarters of his salary if he is in an accident or one-half if he is injured doing his job.  A sheriff gets three-quarters if it is prisoner-related and one half if it is not prisoner-related.  Three-quarters tax-free is essentially a little more than they were making while they were working.  Perhaps it is because some of these officers don’t “look” injured. Perhaps it is because many in our police culture have joked, one time or another, about “Hitting the Jackpot” or “Going Out” on a disability pension when they have had a bad day at work, experience burnout or get the feeling that this job just isn’t worth the aggravation. Or perhaps, it is because we all know someone who is a “Disabled Police Officer”, who runs road races, does power lifting, competes in triathlons or works roofing or other heavy manual labor jobs on the side while claiming to be “Disabled.”   There are lots of reasons on Long Island to be suspicious.

Then again, maybe these offices have permanent injuries that don’t interfere with their physical abilities? Injuries you can’t see.  Maybe they have lost a significant amount of their hearing or they have PTSD that knocked their balance off.  Maybe they have severe constant headaches.  Could some of them be scamming the system? I’m afraid, in some instances, this may be the case. Could some of these officers just be taking advantage of a system that allows them to be injured one day and continue collecting a disability pension years later when they have recovered from those injuries? In some instances, this too is the case. I have spoken with many disabled police officers from NYC who sustained line-of-duty injuries that forced them into a disability retirement. Some of these officers however, are working as full duty police officers in other jurisdictions while still collecting their disability pensions? These officers claim they have fully or partially recovered from their injuries and the particular retirement system they are in allows for this. Despite what many of us think, these types of disability pensions are rare. I have spoken with other disabled officers in nearby jurisdictions throughout the country that have pathetic or no disability pension plans at all.  Unions are not the same across the country.  Why does an officer getting something negotiated in their contract get them labeled as “Scammers” or those who “Have it Made”?  I tried to start an organization for injured police officers and the feeling that they were scammers was so prevalent, no one would join. We don’t believe in us!

If you are permanently disabled and live everyday of your life in pain, whether physically, emotionally or otherwise, I know you can relate to what I have been saying. I’m here to tell you, you are not alone. I too am permanently disabled due to line of duty injuries as a police officer. I served as a police officer for 21 years. Of those 21 years, I served five of these years as a detective and five as a supervisor.  As compared to others I can say, I not only “talked the talk” but I also “walked the walk” like many of you have. Throughout my career, I served in patrol units, conducted dozens of felony investigations, worked in warrant units, elite undercover narcotics and gang task forces. I made hundreds of arrests, wrote thousands of summonses, and saw death and heartache too many times.

After all of this, I know firsthand those names we are called by others do hurt and I regret ever having a doubt about anyone when I was working. I know too, that our disabilities go far beyond what we are physically incapable of doing. For me, losing the ability to walk freely without a cane, walker or mobility scooter was devastating.  Enduring the sleeplessness, the constant pain from my neck, back and legs and the dizziness and migraines as my condition worsens are not all I have lost. I can’t even lift my whole foot at times.

Not only do we as officers suffer from our disabilities but our families suffer as well. Our spouses now have to deal with undiscovered forms of stress, anxiety and the unknown as they sleep next to a stranger and wonder where is the person they married, as if they didn’t have enough to deal with already just being married to a police officer. Our children suffer, having to grow up with a “broken” Dad or Mom – a dad that can no longer run with them in the park, a dad that can’t keep up with them just walking to the bus stop. The images of Mom, Dad and the kids holding hands, laughing and skipping through Disney World will never be our family again. Our children draw unnecessary stares from friends as we limp, drag our foot, and wobble up to the football field to watch them play. In private and at home they may say they are proud of us or love us just as much. But when they say, “just stay home Dad, you don’t have to come to my game or you don’t have to see me in my show”, what they are really saying is “just stay home Dad, I don’t feel like being embarrassed today.”

Does a disability pension with a 30%, 50% or 75% payout compensate our families for what they must endure? Does this disability pension give us back our dignity? Our pride? Our will to succeed? Does it compensate us, mostly, for our loss of hope? The hope that things will get better. The hope that we will recover and get back to what we used to be.  The hope that our spouse will someday love us again, instead of having that distant stare. Does it compensate us for no longer being a Superhero to the neighborhood children? I can tell you, mine does not.

So, before you call me a “scammer”, say I “have it made” or ignore me when we were once friends, remember, most of us are truly disabled and have lost far more than what you can see.


Site Editor:  Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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  1. Gary says:

    Great article written by Ret. Sgt. Deputy John R………What I wouldn’t give to have one particular day on the job not happen years ago. I was forced to take an armed suspect down…and he did not survive. The incident was scrutinized in the national public media spotlight……and at times…still is. Aside from having the trauma weigh on me for the rest of my life of being forced to shoot and kill someone……I had to endure a long legal process….cowering local and state politicians…..and a six week bullshit trial in which I was completely exonerated. It all took it’s toll on my family and me…..and although I wanted to return to the job…..it didn’t work out that way. I retired on a disability pension and moved on with my life. Easier said than done. The scars were and are invisible….as the healing process has taken many years….and continues to this day. Unfortunately……I have found that only those in law enforcement that have been “through it”…..get it. Others in law enforcement understand it…..but you can never really know what it’s like unless you’ve “walked in those shoes”.
    The bottom line……..Those of us retired police officers that have walked the walk, and have been down that unfortunate road…can also be here for others that have gone through a traumatic event on the job. As long as we continue to wear the uniform, and “fight the good fight”……there will always be a need to help our brother and sister officers move forward. Be safe out there……May God Bless those that Protect and Serve. Gary Spath- Teaneck NJ PD Badge #195 Ret.

    • John Rogowski says:

      Hi Gary, thanks for sharing your story as well. The emotional scars that others do not see sometimes hurt the worst. I know exactly where you are coming from. And you are correct, only those who have been there can truly understand. Although our journeys can be long, It is always good to know there is someone else who can help us pick up the pieces along the way……. Sgt. John Rogowski ( Ret. SCSO ).

  2. Manny Amado says:

    Thank you Gary for your article and sharing your personal experience. I could not agree more when you say that “We don’t believe in us”. While I know that this is not the case in most instances, it is in many. We are cynical and skeptical even to our own brothers and sisters.

    I am a retired police officer myself, having served as Chief of my department my last two years on the job before retirement. I can say unequivocally that the good Lord blessed me with health, and a choice to retire when I was ready, and not when I was forced to due to a disability. My wife on the other hand was not as fortunate as I in that sense.

    My lovely wife served the community as a cop for 18 years, her last 10 years as a homicide detective before being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Anyone who worked with my wife will tell you that she was a “cops cop”. I joked with family that if she was cut she would bleed blue. She had a passion and compassion for her work, so needless to say when she started to suffer dizziness, blurry vision, fatigue, unstableness, and all of the other ailments that come with MS, she knew the inevitable was coming. Being told by her neurologist that she could no longer perform the job safely, and then having to apply for disability was one of the toughest things she, and I, had to go through in our 23 years of marriage. The reaction from fellow officers from her department were mixed. He supervisor probably handled it the worse by telling her to turn in her badge and gun upon she telling him that she was diagnosed with MS. That was his ignorance towards the disease as much as it was his insensitivity. Others would comment that she did not look disabled, and of course others just simply did not know what to say. I am sure, as you stated, that there were those that called her a “scammer” behind her back. I truly don’t know and don’t wish to.

    Today, she is collecting not only disability retirement, but also complete disability pay since she is not able to work at all. For someone who has a type A personality, and who when I met her owned two motorcycles, hiked, skydived, and all other sorts of activities that I would not even consider, this is almost a slow death sentence. Add to that PTSD from childhood events and working in homicide for 10 years (3 years in sex crimes before that) and I am sure you can imagine the challenges that we both face. I still work in public safety in my retirement, she stays home and makes the best of her life without police work by becoming involved with the church, neighbors, and other activities. I can still see the pain in her face at times when I am getting dressed for work and kiss her when I leave in the morning. I know better than to complain about the insignificant events of my day when I know that she would trade places with me in a heartbeat. I wait until she asks about my day before I share, even though I know that this is not her wish. She keeps on keeping on as the old saying used to go.

    I hope your article touches others as it did me, and that those that are still blessed to put on the uniform day after day appreciate that they still can and reflect on their blessings, and that they keep in mind those, like my wife, who no longer can.

    God bless

    • John Rogowski says:

      Hi Manny, Dr. Aumiller thought I should respond to you. Dr. A. deserves a ton of credit for his editing and for giving us National exposure, but is was I however, who wrote this article. I think that by sharing our very personal stories here and elswehere is where we can make the most impact. It is important for each of us to know we are not alone. We hear often the cries from loved ones of those Officer’s who have died in the Line of Duty and have paid the ” Ultimate Sacrifice”. These Officers and their families most certainly deserve all of the praise and recognition that they get. Those of us who wake up every day with the painful reminders that we too have sacrificed are often shunned and forgotten about. There is much more awareness and recognition needed for these Officer’s and their families as well. I am glad to see your wife is able to focus on what it is she “can” do and less on what she “cannot”. This is one of the most important ways we can cope but is much easier to say than to do. Manny, she is lucky to have someone like you standing beside her, with one strong shoulder to lean on and a second one to cry on. Share my sincere gratitude to your wife for here sacrifice and to you for yours. Sgt. John Rogowski ( Ret. SCSO ).

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you John for your kind words and your encouragement. I will certainly share with her that she is not alone and that her perseverance and strength is recognized, especially by those that can empathize such as yourself. May God bless and keep you and your family. Take care!
        Manny Amado

  3. Wayne A. Wallace says:

    It is important to recognize that when officers are injured in the line of duty they must undergo a fitness for duty physical examination. Any restrictions that are incompatible with agency requirements will require either termination or disability retirement. I suffered a cervical spine injury that required numerous plates and screws in my spinal column to return feeling to my right side. While the pain is often considerable, I am fortunate to have recovered. My reward was to be told I could not do the job any longer, and I was forced to retire. I fought it, and lost. Today I am on a disability retirement but I have the chance to do anything I can physically endure. I am free to violate the ridiculous 25 lb weight restriction I had placed on me, for example, but I do so at my own risk. So I am one of those guys who could run a marathon, golf, or attempt anything without violating a “disability”, as my agency and municipality forced me to into retirement. 20 years of dedicated service out the door. Thanks for this fine article

    • John Rogowski says:

      Hi Wayne, thanks for the compliment on the article. This Fitness for Duty physical exam you spoke of, and the way it is implemented, is not standard practice in other Police Agencies. Most exams of this type are implemented to force the Officer back to work or into non-existent “light duty” positions. Some of these “Doctors” have forced Officers to work “full duty” Patrol assignments with torn ligaments, ripped knee cartilage, newly herniated discs and worse. While you may not have wanted to retire when you did, at least your Agency put your safety and the safety of the public before all else. Sgt. John Rogowski. ( Ret. )

  4. Anonymous says:

    Is Not Just Injured In Job Duties, Is also The Physically and Mentally, That this Officer has to deal with. Not Be Able To work and Provide For The Family. They are Not A Faker Or Making Believed. It Does Happen, Someone has to Experience What This Officer Are Feelings, Injuries an pain. Emotional Affected. No Ones Can Read Their Mind Or Feel That Disability Don’t Pay Enough. Worrying If Is Food On The Table.. All This Cause Depression, Anxiety, Stress. Believed Me, Help Has To Come To Them. Someone To Speak to them. and let them know, that they’re not Alone. Proud Officer Will Not Come To Ask For Help. “Maybe You Know Why”.

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