AUSTIN, Texas - A Texas law enforcement union said they will file suit on behalf of any family of an officer who dies from COVID-19 that is not covered by line of duty death benefits.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas has been begging the governor to add COVID-19 to the list of presumptive illnesses for first responders, meaning it would be assumed they were infected on the job.
Without that designation, first responders won't necessarily be covered by worker's compensation if they need medical care because of COVID-19 and, if they die from it, their family won't get line of duty death benefits.
“There’s that benefit that Texas promised you that, even in the last seconds of your life, you know at least your family is going to be taken care of,” said Charley Wilkison, executive director of CLEAT.
Wilkison said CLEAT will fight for those families in court, whether the officer was a CLEAT member or not. “We’re going to carry all the fees. CLEAT will handle everything free of charge for those families,” said Wilkison.
That includes city, county, and state law enforcement, as well as detention and correction officers. Already five employees at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have died from COVID-19.
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Wilkison said what's even more frustrating is that when COVID-19 first started spreading in Texas, many officers didn't have access to personal protective equipment. CLEAT spent about $250,000 buying masks that were then distributed to law enforcement agencies across the state.
“So if you’re not going to give them the PPE to let them do their job in a more safe way, protect themselves in the public, then at least do the presumptive and that wasn’t done either,” Wilkison said.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said the City of Austin has done a great job of protecting their officers. Masks were provided to first responders, medical expenses related to COVID-19 were covered, and officers did not lose sick time if they experienced symptoms and had to isolate at home. But he agreed smaller agencies need the governor to declare COVID-19 a presumptive illness.
“They’ve done it for cancer for firefighters, they’ve done it for police officers with heart disease, and we’re one of the few groups that’s out there having to work, and we’re in public every day, up close and personal, and I think it'd be a travesty if the governor didn’t approve that,” said Casaday.
The Texas legislature could pass a bill to declare COVID-19 a presumptive illness, but they don't meet again until January. CLEAT said 30 state legislators, on both sides of the aisle, have already written the governor asking him to pass an executive order.
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