Over the last several years, police work has drawn an incredible amount of scrutiny. In some places around the country, it’s worse than others. Still, if a police officer makes a mistake, it can cause a severe injury or a life-threatening event. The public eye is tracking police activity like never before. That’s understandable these days, considering the atmosphere around the police.
Still, it’s easy for the public to see the uniform and look past the person. According to one study, police officers are dying at an alarming rate, and not all are in the line of duty. Hundreds of law enforcement officers are dying by suicide. At the root of the problem are mental health issues. Sadly, when an officer loses their life by choice, the family is left to pick up the pieces without any honors or benefits for the former officer’s duty. One widow is trying to change that.
Widow Strives To Make a Difference
In 2019, Sgt. Cory Slifko left behind his wife Katie and their two daughters after 20 years of public service in law enforcement. Due to Sgt. Slifko’s passing by suicide, his widow and their two children didn’t receive any of the honors and benefits normally provided to surviving spouses.
Federal and state laws and regulations say if any law enforcement official causes their own death, lump-sum payments, life insurance, and health insurance for surviving children are allowable. Mrs. Slifko told the local press that there’s a stigma around suicide. She said there was no recognition of her husband’s years of service, the sacrifices he made, or his family’s sacrifices. She added that she had no doubt his work as a police officer killed him and stated that numerous physicians diagnosed Sgt. Slifko with PTSD related to his work.
Military Veterans Treated Differently Than Police Officers
In January 2016, Blue H.E.L.P. began keeping track of first responders who lost their lives due to suicide. In 2019, 228 police officers died at their own hands. In 2017, The Ruderman Family Foundation said that 129 officers died in the line of duty, while 140 police deaths were self-inflicted. Experts aren’t sure if the uptick is because there are more suicides or because the reporting on the issue has increased.
After numerous studies and two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military now classifies 90% of suicides as line-of-duty deaths due to PTSD related to their service. Yet, federal and state law doesn’t afford police officers the same benefit because statutes and law enforcement regulations haven’t changed.
A bill in Congress could change federal law to allow for honors and benefits for families if a police officer dies due to suicide and had been suffering from PTSD. It would also make PTSD a permanent disability. Likewise, in Slifko’s home state of Minnesota, the state legislatures are considering a similar law, though it faces more of an uphill climb.
So, the next time you encounter an officer, remember, they are people who do extraordinary work but who are just human. They, too, are flawed and imperfect. Perhaps Congress and the states will help fix one part of this problem for surviving spouses and dependents.
Thank you to our friends at Bright Press for contributing this piece.