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Lawmakers Approve Bill to Compensate Injured Officers

April 02, 2002
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Lawmakers Approve Bill to Compensate Injured Officers

by Steven K. Paulson, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) - A Senate committee approved a bill Monday to allow police and firefighters to keep more of their disability pay after the wife of a paralyzed Florence police officer said her husband may have to go on welfare.

Misty Bethel, wife of Cpl. Toby Bethel, said officers should not lose workers' compensation benefits because they collect a pension.

"He put his life on the line for his community. God forbid we have to go on welfare because he was just doing his job," she said at a news conference as Bethel sat in a wheelchair, wiping away tears.

Bethel was paralyzed from the waist down in the Sept. 28 shooting that left Fremont County deputy Jason Schwartz dead. Bethel has undergone numerous surgeries and was hospitalized again Monday for pain.

Sen. Doug Linkhart, sponsor of Senate Bill 173, said Bethel was making $12 an hour when he was shot and is now trying to live on half that amount.

Under present law, Bethel is eligible for his pension but the value of his pension benefit will offset all or part of the permanent benefit he would get under workers' compensation.

The bill would allow police and firefighters to receive their one-time disability payment as well as they pensions they earned. It was written to go into effect after Bethel applies for benefits under a pension or disability plan so he can be covered.

"We need to recognize that we are asking police and firefighters to deal with the increased risks of their duty to protect and to further recognize that it makes no sense to demand from them a refund of their physical impairment benefit," Linkhart said.

Marshall Fogel, Bethel's attorney and a former prosecutor, said too many officers and firefighters suffer financially when they are injured on the job.

"We go to these ceremonies where they receive medals and plaques and care and love, but what we don't see is what these people go through, men and women, after all the fanfare is over with. They can't make it," Fogel said.

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