City Council committee approves extension of benefits to families of first responders who commit suicide
In the past five years alone, 13 Chicago Police Department officers have committed suicide.
First responders are more likely to die by suicide than “any other means of death in the line of duty”, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
The trauma they see on a daily basis is the “perfect recipe for feeling hopeless,” according to Jennifer McGowan, chief operating officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago.
On Thursday, a city council committee took a small but important step to help their families through this unimaginable trauma — financially, at least.
The city council’s finance committee approved an order that would give surviving spouses of police officers and firefighters who died by suicide since January 1, 2018 the same benefits given to families of first responders killed in the line of duty.
This equates to one year’s salary, plus access to a fund that can provide $20,000 to $40,000 for family health care, education, and other eligible expenses.
The order was defended by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) at the request of former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins and the two widows of the police he represented pro bono: Anastasia “Stacy” Escamilla and Julie Troglia.
Their husbands, Paul Escamilla and Jeffrey Troglia, committed suicide. They had 30 years of service between them.
The two widows were listening during Thursday’s virtual hearing. Just like Collins.
“Thank you for speaking up. … We want to take care of this … support you during this difficult time – and let you know that we are thinking of you and your husbands,” O’Shea said.
In response to questions from Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Waguespack pegged the cost of the new benefit at $4 million, “if everyone qualifies for the maximum benefit.” It’s “on the order of a few tens of thousands, depending on family size” for each household, the president said.
The benefit “brings us closer to some of the changes in contracts, probate and labor and case law recognizing that death by suicide cannot be ignored by law due to a stigma, shame and defiance of wounds that are not always visible to the eye,” Waguespack added, a long-time caller.
“It’s time for us to recognize that there are certain lines of work that put people at greater risk of self-harm due to physical and mental trauma.”
Aldus. Brian Hopkins (2nd) argued that aldermen would be “negligent” in passing the ordinance without first stopping for a “moment of reflection” on what is causing the surge in first responder suicides.
“People on the front line see things that we only read about in the newspapers. They experience it. And it has a profound impact on their emotional well-being and mental health. More and more, that is manifesting in tragedies,” Hopkins said.
“They really are the canaries of the coal mine in many ways. And they see the progressive deterioration of our social order. This should make us reflect on the direction we are heading as a nation. … It’s tragic that we have come to this in our society.
Mayoral challenger Ray Lopez (15th) argued that the wave of suicides among first responders is not just about “what they see” at work, but “what we do to them as city of Chicago.
“When we cancel their days off, don’t allow them to chill out and treat them and talk about them like they’re the enemy of the people, that’s what drives suicide in our city, more than that. they see on the street,” Lopez said.
“Our complete disregard for their service to the city of Chicago is having a devastating and deadly impact on the morale of our police and first responders. We must also be aware of this fact.
These remarks reflected the feelings of the two widows.
During a heartbreaking interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in late April, Troglia opened up about the conversation she had with the superintendent of police. David Brown after her husband’s suicide in March 2021.
“One of my big pushes was the cancellation of days off. My strong point is that these men and women need more than a day or two to fully rest and have a life a unnormal with family and friends so they can defuse and debrief and prepare to get back to the battle of what they have to do every day,” she said then.