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
Please share this article from down below.
Please join the email list on the top of the sidebar and you can get these sent to your email.
Come back regularly for more updated articles on police psychology