States across the country have taken steps to ensure first responders and their families are covered if they contract COVID-19, but not Texas.
- Their lives on the line every day, but some first responders say COVID-19 has forced them to face a new risk involving their benefits. And state lawmakers are set to debate that issue. Our Doug Dunbar explains.
DOUG DUNBAR: Everman Police Officer Alex Arango.
- This is all so much. We are all hurting.
DOUG DUNBAR: Denton County Chief Deputy Constable Wayne Rhodes.
- His death has just rocked our office. Rockwall Police Officer Terry Gaines.
- He left such a mark on Rockwall and I know we're all going to miss him so much.
DOUG DUNBAR: They are among the dozens of police officers, firefighters, and paramedics across Texas who lost their lives because of Covid-19. Thousands more have tested positive. And for those in the fight against COVID today, they're also in a fight for their benefits.
State law says first responders who contract a respiratory illness are presumed to have gotten it during the course and scope of employment, meaning they're entitled to sick leave and medical treatment-- or, if the worst happens, death benefits for their families.
JOHN RIDDLE: We believe that COVID-19 is covered under our presumptive law now. Because it doesn't specifically mention COVID-19, workers comp providers will typically try to find a way to not pay that claim.
DOUG DUNBAR: Firefighters associations say their members risk exposure on every call, which makes pinpointing a source extremely difficult.
MICHAEL GLYNN: You would have to show that you responded to a patient that had a positive diagnosis. And the contact tracing on that, I think would be challenging.
DOUG DUNBAR: Michael Glynn says early in the pandemic, the city of Fort Worth agreed to treat first responder COVID cases as on-the-job illnesses. But that's not happening in every city. Two DFW area lawmakers are hoping to change that.
JARED PATTERSON: The first responders in the state of Texas really have to fight tooth and nail for every benefit that they receive.
BEVERLY POWELL: There are officers-- officers' families who are hoping to get line of duty death benefits that are fighting that battle as we speak.
DOUG DUNBAR: State Senator Beverly Powell and State Representative Jared Patterson have each filed bills to add COVID-19 to the list of on-the-job illnesses that would be covered, and they want the change to be made retroactive. That would give those who were denied benefits early in the pandemic another chance.
JOHN RIDDLE: After this bill goes into effect they can refile that claim and get it covered.
DOUG DUNBAR: Powell and Patterson say it is one less hurdle for the men and women who put their lives on the line every single day.
JARED PATTERSON: It shouldn't be such a burden to come forward and to get the benefits that you should rightfully have access to.
BEVERLY POWELL: I really don't have any doubt that our legislature will come together to pass this bill.
- That was Doug Dunbar reporting. There is a separate similar bill filed by North Texas State Senator Drew Springer. It would also ensure benefits for first responders for all COVID-19 treatments, and it would also consider any COVID-19-related death in a first responder a line-of-duty death.