FORT WORTH, Texas — Fort Worth Police Officer Kellie Whitehead said she wears the uniform to help people.
But right now, she thinks the City government is failing to return the favor to injured officers.
“Workman’s comp for first responders needs to be changed across the board because we go out there every day,” Whitehead said. “We put our lives on the line for every single citizen.”
Whitehead was lauded as a hero in 2015 when she jumped into Lake Como to save a drowning man.
What didn’t make headlines, she said, were the injuries that kept her out of work for two years after a truck rear-ended her patrol car in 2016.
“Major back injury, neck injury and head injury,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead said doctors hadn't cleared her to return to work when the Fort Worth city council voted unanimously to deny her an extension of leave benefits on March 19.
The council is scheduled Tuesday to vote on a similar case involving Officer Jose Reyes-Lamas.
The legislation on the agenda for the meeting on June 25 shows a recommendation to deny an extension of occupational injury leave benefits following an injury in the line of duty on Nov.11, 2016.
Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said Reyes-Lamas' injuries happened while the officer tried to stop a car.
“He was actually dragged by his wrist,” Ramirez said.
The council legislation says Reyes Lamas is currently "unable to return to work in any capacity."
Citing privacy policies, the Fort Worth Police Department did not elaborate on the extent of his injuries and offered only a brief summary when asked for comment on the system injured officers face at city hall.
“The extension being approved or denied is based on city policy and workers comp state laws,” said Ivan Gomez, a spokesman for the police department.
Ramirez said the policy needs to change.
“As the city of Fort Worth, we have to be looking at constant process improvements,” Ramirez said.
The council legislation says Reyes-Lamas has 890.53 hours of available leave, including holiday, vacation, sick, personal and non-exempt comp time.
Divided by a 40-hour work week, that would run out in about 22 weeks.
Whitehead faced a similar problem, she told WFAA, when her hours ran out and she eventually returned to work while continuing to deal with her injuries. She said she was forced to choose between living with the pain on the job or living without a paycheck.