If you are seriously wounded in a violent attack to the point where you can no longer perform the duties of a police officer, what kind of financial support can you expect to receive?
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The financial pitfalls of being violently wounded in the line of duty
Detective Mario Oliveira discovered the answer to that question in the hardest way possible.
After surviving a violent assault by a wanted felon during which he was shot six times, which resulted in his having to retire from the career he loved, he and his family seemed to be punished for his survival.
Mario discovered he would have to support his family on 72% of his base salary. If he chose to work to supplement this massive cut in pay, he was prohibited from making more than $15,000.00 or he would lose his benefits.
Mario found himself asking this question after nearly losing his life and losing his career: “Here I am left with a three-year-old boy and a newborn. How do I manage? How do I take them on a vacation, or put them through college? How do I give them a good life?”
Mario chose to keep fighting
Detective Oliveira survived his physical ordeal because he was a fighter. He decided to survive his financial ordeal as well by fighting first for himself and then for all officers in the future who might be violently and permanently wounded in the line of duty as he was.
As he researched his options he discovered in special circumstances that chiefs, sheriffs and lawmakers who chose to do the right thing can pass “special legislation” for officers who are seriously and permanently wounded by violent assault in the line of duty. Mario pursued this path, which was a long haul, but at the end he found success.
Mario explained he sought in his forced-by-a-violent-act-retirement to receive 100% of his pay. After what he had gone through for his community, he just could not see the fairness of receiving a permanent 28% pay cut while being legally blocked from earning enough to thrive.
After submitting his request for “special legislation,” his chief agreed. The chief submitted the request to the mayor of his City and there it sat. The mayor did not proceed forward with the request for two years. These two years were, according to Mario, “my darkest time, after my wounding.” His worries caused him to drop into a deep depression, resulting in him losing weight and becoming isolated.
He had to deal with the physical pain of his wounds, the emotional pain of losing a career and his entire family had to struggle with the financial pain of living on a substantially lower income without Mario being able to effectively supplement his income with another career.
Even though it appeared the mayor had either forgotten him or possibly even filed the request in the circular file, Mario did not give in nor give up the fight. He went to campaign gatherings for Mayor Joe Curtatone to remind him in case he had forgotten that the chief’s request for “special legislation” for Mario and his family was still pending. He kept his efforts positive, but persistent. They ultimately paid off.
After two years the mayor approved and submitted the request for the “special legislation” through the city council and it was approved. Mario would receive 100% of his base pay at the time of his wounding and be allowed to seek additional employment as long as it was not as a police officer.
Making lemonade out of lemons
After his ordeal, Mario decided to help others in law enforcement. He and another wounded officer, Robert Denapoli, formed a non-profit called the “Violently Injured Police Officer’s Organization,” or “VIPO”
Their efforts have been on behalf of officers who have been permanently and violently wounded in the line of duty who can no longer perform their jobs. They assist them by walking them through the process of “special legislation” so that they too will not be punished for surviving.
Oliveira and Denapoli have also been effective in educating the surviving families of fallen officers of all the benefits available to them in the dark days after their loss.
Mario pointed out the disparity among states. Oliveira said that the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program will distribute $389,825 tax-free to the family of a fallen officer. Many states offer additional benefits. For example, his own state of Massachusetts offers an additional $300,000 tax-free, plus the spouse gets the officer’s base pay salary at the time of death, as well as pay raises and additional benefits as if their officer-spouse was still on the job.
In contrast, when an officer is killed in the line of duty in Vermont, Mario points out the family will receive the federal benefit, but they will receive zero dollars from the State of Vermont.
Some benefits available in some states that families are not aware of include:
- Children of public safety officers killed in the line of duty can file for free in-state college tuition.
- Children of fallen public safety officers who choose to be police officers or firefighters can file a 402A status move to the top of any hiring list they are on.
- The families of any fallen officer who was a member of the NRA at the time they were killed in the line of duty, qualify to apply for a $35,000 benefit from the NRA.
Mario’s legislative fight continues
VIPO has become a force to be reckoned with around the country. They have managed to get legislation that would make it a requirement to:
- Continue to pay 100% of a violently wounded/disabled officer’s base salary with raises and benefits added on as officer contracts require.
- Not restrict permanently violently wounded/disabled officers from seeking employment in work they can do, nor cap the wages they make.
VIPO has assisted in achieving the passing of this legislation in the states of Kentucky and Oklahoma. The legislation has been filed, with approval, hopefully pending, in the states of:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
Although Detective Oliveira can no longer do the job he loved so much he keeps himself busy. He is raising three sons with his wife and not only serves law enforcement as co-director of VIPO, but he also now serves the New England State Police Information Network as its law enforcement coordinator.
In his spare time, he also co-wrote “Gunrunner: The Mario Oliveira Story” with co-author Keith Knotek, which details what happened on the night of his near-deadly assault.
In spite of everything that has happened I asked this violently wounded police officer, “How are you doing now?” His answer was: “I’m surviving. There are still the challenges of PTSD, and some anxiety, but I appreciate my life more, my family more, waking up every day, living life and breathing.”
Now that’s something we should all hope to someday achieve. A life lived with love of family, passion, purpose and proper perspective.
Keep fighting the good fight, Detective Oliveira.