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New fund aims to help Sandy Hook survivors

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published March 12. 2013 4:00PM   Updated March 13. 2013 12:06AM
First responders, teachers unable to return to work among those eligible for aid

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a bill on Tuesday to create a Sandy Hook fund that would provide financial relief to workers such as first responders, teachers and administrators who are not yet ready to return to work.

Corporate and private donors will provide the money for the assistance fund, which will be managed by the state's Office of Victim Services. The office will accept gifts, donations and grants on behalf of the fund. Charitable organizations also will accept donations, which will be distributed to the fund, according to a press release.

Dominion is one of the corporate donors and has said it will give $10,000, according to Kevin Hennessy, director of federal, state and local affairs for Dominion last week.

Workers and volunteers who might qualify include those who were employed at Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of the shooting and those who were involved in the official response and have suffered from a mental health issue as a result, according to the release.

House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, said first responders and teachers in Newtown approached legislators, who answered by saying, "What can we do to help?"

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said he wanted to thank Newtown workers for coming forward.

"All of us as elected officials do this for a reason, and the reason is simply that we want to do good … and rare is the opportunity, I think, to precisely identify something that can mean so much to people who need help so directly," Sharkey said.

Through the fund, eligible volunteers and workers would receive financial help for mental health services and compensation for time off from work, according to the release.

"They need help over and above what is provided," said Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, "so we have pulled together as a state."

State workers' compensation covers work-related injury or illness but does not cover mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Joe Rios, captain of the Newtown Police Department, said he was one of the responders who entered Sandy Hook Elementary.

"It's probably something I don't really talk about," he said.

This bill is important and significant because it shows support for first responders, he said.

"If your brain is injured and it is related to an incident at work, I think we have to strongly consider how we take care of our workers," he said. "Because the aftermath, you know, no one ever thought something like this would take place, but now we are dealing with the effects of it, mainly the (post-traumatic stress disorder)."

The Newtown Police Department has about 43 sworn officers. The area has hundreds of volunteer firefighters and there are about 80 teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, said Pat Llodra, first selectwoman of Newtown. She said she wasn't sure of the exact number that might need financial assistance, but she hoped the need and the amount of contributions would match.

Llodra also said she would not be seeking financial assistance because she didn't think she was experiencing any of the symptoms.

"Really, everyone is doing well, as well as could be expected right now, but PTSD has those unpredictable kinds of ways of displaying itself, so even a person today who seems able and fine might tomorrow have some difficulties," she said. "So we need to be prepared."

State Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who also represents Newtown, said he was having a birthday dinner celebration the night after the bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously, and a fourth-grade teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary was in attendance.

"She was aware of what we had done that day and there was some weight taken off of her shoulders … and she was so thankful," he said.

j.somers@theday.com

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