(ORLANDO) — One of the first police officers to respond to the Pulse nightclub massacre is losing his job with only months to go before he’s entitled to full pension benefits. He called on Florida lawmakers to do more to support first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Eatonville Town Council agreed unanimously Tuesday night to pay Cpl. Omar Delgado some $1,200 in accrued sick time when his job ends at year’s end, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Delgado was lauded as a hero for saving nightclub shooting victim Angel Colon during the June 2016 shooting, which killed 49 people. He returned to patrol duty after that, but eventually took a desk job. On Monday, he was told that job is ending. Town officials won’t say why, but Delgado said a doctor’s finding that PTSD makes him unfit to return to full duty is a factor.
He’s not the first officer at the horrific shooting scene to meet this fate. The Orlando Police Department granted early retirement benefits in July to Officer Gerry Realin, 37, who was diagnosed with PTSD and will get about 80 percent of his $70,000 salary each year for life.
Eatonville, however, is financially struggling. The nation’s oldest incorporated African-American town, known as the home of author Zora Neale Hurston, it has about 2,000 people and a small police department, where Delgado has worked for 9 ½ years. Another six months, and he would become vested in the pension system, able to collect 64 percent of his $38,500 salary and benefits for life.
Instead, the newspaper reports, Delgado will receive 42 percent of his salary starting when he’s 55 years old. He is now 45.
“It’s a small town … Everyone’s family here, and I thought I was going to be treated like family,” Delgado said. “I didn’t think I was going to be treated this way.”
Deputy Chief Joseph Jenkins said the department reached a confidential agreement with the officer. Mayor Eddie Cole cited privacy laws in declining to explain the decision.
The mayor also questioned why funds from the onePULSE Foundation, which was created to help survivors and families of victims, weren’t diverted to law enforcement officers and their families.
“This town, as well as me, cares about people,” Cole said. “But some pictures are bigger than we all know.”
Delgado said state lawmakers need to do more to support first responders who suffer from PTSD.
A proposed bill requiring coverage for mental health treatment in workers compensation for first responders with PTSD did advance Tuesday in Florida Senate committee in Tallahassee. It may be heard by the legislature in the session beginning Jan. 9. But similar proposals introduced last year died before making it to the floor for a vote.