Legislators support fund for Sandy Hook workers

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capital_webHARTFORD — The state legislature has approved a bill establishing a private fund to aid Sandy Hook workers and first responders affected by psychological trauma in the wake of the Newtown shootings.

The bill, H.B. 6599, establishes the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund and was necessary because current law doesn’t allow police officers, firefighters and teachers to receive compensation benefits due to emotional damages, according to a release issued by state Rep. Lezlye Zupkus’ (R-89) office.

Some first responders have had a difficult time returning to work and have been seeking counseling services only to find their sick time or leave benefits were running out. Some are out on leave without pay while they continue to deal with the aftermath of what they saw, the release stated.

“People throughout our state, country and the world, for that matter, were looking to help in the aftermath of Newtown, and this new fund gives them an avenue to do that,” Zupkus said in a statement “I wish this weren’t necessary, that this tragedy never happened, but I was proud to support this bill.”

According to online records the bill was passed by the state Senate and House of Representatives this week.

The bill provides financial assistance to certain people who suffered a mental or emotional impairment related to the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, its grounds, and the immediate vicinity, including the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Department, between 8 a.m. and midnight on Dec.14, 2012, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School and its grounds on Dec. 15, 2012, according to a release issued by the office of state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70)

“This legislation transcends party lines and shows Connecticut stands behind the brave men and women who responded to the Sandy Hook tragedy,” Rebimbas said in a statement. “I’m proud we were able to come together to support first responders, teachers and others directly affected by the horrific events that tragic December day. These men and women, who do so much for us, deserve the time to heal and our respect for their sacrifices.”

The legislation doesn’t set aside any state funding, and instead collects charitable donations from the public and private sources. The state Treasurer will be authorized to accept donations directly, and charitable organizations will also be able to take donations on behalf of the fund. Claims will be administered through The Office of Victim Services.

Eligible claimants can receive financial assistance for uncompensated leave from their employment if the mental or emotional impairment caused a total or partial disability preventing them from working. They can also receive payments for related medical expenses that are not covered by their own health insurance.

The Office of Victim Services must begin accepting applications for benefits by April 1, 2013, and benefit payments will end on Aug. 31, 2015. The bill limits each claimant to a total of 52 weeks of benefits. It also establishes a process for claimants to appeal initial decisions on their claims.