Orlando cop with PTSD after Pulse attack granted early retirement
"Just because you can't see his injuries does not mean they are not there"
By David Harris
ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite staunch opposition from the city, the Orlando Police Pension Board on Thursday granted early retirement benefits to an officer diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the Pulse nightclub massacre.
Doctors determined Officer Gerry Realin, 37, was “permanently disabled from performing duties as a law enforcement officer.”
After an emotional hearing, the board voted unanimously to approve his pension, which gives Realin 80 percent of his $70,000 salary for life.
As the board voted, Realin’s wife, Jessica, started sobbing.
“I feel like a big weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” she said afterward.
It is the board’s responsibility to determine if evidence shows the injury happened on duty and caused permanent disability.
“Based on the evidence that’s presented to me from all of the doctors, I believe it’s permanent,” board president Jay Smith said.
Gerry Realin, who joined the police force in 2004, did not attend Thursday’s hearing because his doctors said it was not in his best interest. He was represented by his wife and lawyers. He declined to comment on the decision through his lawyer.
He was on the team that removed bodies from Pulse after 49 people were gunned down and dozens more injured on June 12, 2016.
A lawyer representing the city, Steven McKillop, argued against Realin’s receiving the pension, saying it was too early in the treatment process to declare him permanently disabled.
He acknowledged that Realin has PTSD but said there was a chance he could get better.
McKillop also said there were “inconsistencies” in what Realin told doctors.
“Mr. Realin has used the medical professionals to suit his interests,” McKillop said. “The records are replete with inconsistencies that defy logic, reason and reality. They do nothing but point out his own clear objectives.”
The objective, McKillop argued, was to receive an early pension. McKillop said Realin’s doctor’s notes indicate he “made up his mind” that he wanted an early retirement just a few months after the attack, before he had a chance to get better.
But board member Christopher McCullion, the city’s chief financial officer, disagreed.
“I’m sure the medical providers noticed those same discrepancies, and I presume they took that into consideration,” McCullion said.
Realin also was driven by his “disdain” for the department that was trying to help him, McKillop said.
“Rather than accept the hand that has reached out to him, at every turn he has utilized all means necessary to pursue his goal of obtaining permanent in-line-of-duty benefits so he does not have to return to work as a police officer,” McKillop said.
Board votes unanimously to give Gerry Realin a pension. pic.twitter.com/vKtrT9rmmZ— The Health Nerd (@WMFEHealthNerd) July 13, 2017
The city offered Realin a different job at City Hall, but Realin did not take it, saying his doctor advised it was not in his best interest.
At one point, Jessica Realin stormed out of Thursday’s meeting because she was upset.
“It was hard to hear my husband’s credibility being attacked,” she said.
Realin’s attorney Paolo Longo said the city’s arguments were just grandstanding and lacked any evidence.
“There isn’t a single contrary medical opinion to state that Officer Realin is fit to return to law enforcement,” Longo said. “The fact that the city is openly and publicly opposing this application is offensive — not only for Mr. Realin and his family, but the community — and, I believe, the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy.”
City spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser said McKillop was highlighting all of the facts so that the board could make an informed decision.
Realin received support from lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando.
Soto compared what Realin went through to what soldiers see on the battlefield.
“It is critical that we recognize both the physical and mental effects that traumatic major terrorism events can have on our first responders,” he wrote in a letter to the board. “These heinous events are of a unique and intense nature beyond the normal stress of their jobs.”
The Realins tried unsuccessfully to get state law changed to allow first responders with PTSD-only injuries to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Pulse nightclub owner Barbara Poma spoke in support of Gerry Realin.
“Just because you can't see his injuries does not mean they are not there," she said.
Nancy Rosado, a retired New York City police officer who suffers from PTSD after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and now lives in Orlando, told the board Realin deserves the pension.
“It is not natural — it is not normal — to stand in a room with 49 bodies,” she said. “Just as it was not normal for me to watch hundreds of people jump because they were afraid they were going to burn.”
©2017 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)