One of the first responders to the Pulse nightclub shooting is now essentially being punished for his heroic actions.
Omar Delgado of the Eatonville Police Department was one of the first police officers to arrive at the venue of the massacre on June 12, 2016, where he quickly began to help survivors to safety. He was lauded as a hero for saving the life on one clubgoer, Angel Colon, who was shot six times but survived because of Delgado’s prompt actions.
However, the terrible carnage left scars on Delgado in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The police officer returned to his patrol duty a month after the incident but realized he was no longer comfortable in crowded places. Even entering restaurants and bars became very stressful for him.
“Too many people,” he said. “God forbid, something happens — I don’t know if I’d be able to react.”
To compensate for his symptoms, Delgado was placed on desk duty where he answered phone calls and performed other light tasks instead of patrol. However, a doctor found him unfit to return to his regular, full-time job and earlier this week, he was quietly notified that his employment would be terminated on Dec. 31.
The Town Council voted unanimously to pay the officer $1,200 before taxes in accrued sick time. Delgado worked for the department for nine and a half years. Had the council waited just six more months, Delgado would have been eligible for a pension, which would have given him 64 percent of his annual $38,500 salary, along with benefits, for life.
As it stands, he will now get only 42 percent of his salary starting when he is 55. He is now 45 years old, meaning he currently has no source of income for 10 years.
The department’s Chief Administrative Officer Roger Dixon did not go into the details of Delgado’s dismissal but said, “The facts as we know them have caused me as an administrator to be concerned for the health and safety of the citizens and those passing through the town. Most of that is confidential, so I won’t be able to say anything about that.”
Meanwhile, Delgado is shocked and disappointed by this treatment.
“Just let me get vested and I will be more than happy to pack up my troubles and leave,” he told USA Today. “This is the thing I’ve been working toward for 10 years and to be six months shy then be fired, it’s like ‘wow!’”
Eatonville Mayor Eddie Cole wondered why the funds from the One Orlando Fund, an initiative for the Pulse nightclub shooting victims set up by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, could not be used to assist law enforcement officers and their families who have been impacted by the tragedy. However, he also declined to provide additional information relating to Delgado’s firing, citing privacy laws.
Meanwhile, Delgado said state legislators have not done enough to address PTSD in police officers.
“It’s hurtful,” he said. “It’s a small town. Everyone’s family here and I thought I was going to be treated like family. ... I didn’t think I was going to be treated this way.”
He has started a GoFundMe page to raise funds and also plans to apply for disability benefits as he now has to struggle to provide for his wife and three young children.
“They can't find it in their hearts to find six more months, just so I can be vested and then just move on with my life,” Delgado told WFTV. “I needed help, and I guess I'm being punished because I asked for help.”
“This Christmas is going to be a really sad one,” he added. “There’s simply not enough money to make it.”
The Florida Senate has forwarded a bill that requires coverage for mental issues treatment in workers compensation insurance for first responders with PTSD. Under the bill, a treatment will begin within 15 days once certified by a licensed psychiatrist. The bill will be heard in the legislative session beginning Jan. 9, 2017.
Hopefully, if the bill passed into law, it will help other officers with PTSD meet a different, happier end than Delgado.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS/ Carlo Allegri