R-Ogden Rep. Ryan Wilcox cited the tragic case of Nate Lyday. This caused five police officers to quit their jobs as his spouse begged him to find a new career.
Lyday, a second-generation police officer, was shot in 2020 while answering a domestic violence call. During his 15 months, he served at the Ogden Police Department.
“When we did the research and looked at the data, there were a lot of people who were self-medicating with alcohol … and nearly two-thirds of the departments were classified as ‘at risk,'” Wilcox said. and one-third were classified as ‘at risk’ or ‘at risk’ of suicide.
Emergency services and police work cause a great deal of stress for years to come, affecting not only first responders but also their families.
In 2022, Utah passed a law giving first responders and their families free access to mental health professionals and other mental health resources. Spouses of retirees are not included.
Wilcox is now trying to change that.
HB59 provides mental health services to retired law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters, dispatchers, corrections officers, CSI technicians, and spouses of search and rescue workers.
The bill also adds forensic interviewers and Internet crime task force members to the list of recipients of mental health resources, as well as their families and spouses of retired members.
Current law does not allow spouses of retired first responders to use mental health resources available to retirees and their families. Essentially, when a first responder leaves, their access to mental health services is revoked and unavailable to their spouses.
“We’ve lost too many people to suicide, we’ve lost too many families not just to suicide but to divorce,” Wilcox said.
Heidi Evans, a retired Iron County Sheriff’s Department detective and spouse of Lt. David Evans, shared her experience.
“The unsung hero behind it is the family,” Evans said.
Evans described her own struggles.
“I was watching my husband go through PTSD,” she said. We’ve been trying…but sometimes we fall apart and need an outlet.
Evans said it was important to denounce mental health treatment for first responders, their families and others.
The bill also creates “regular and ongoing” appointments for first responders and their families, including retirees and their spouses.
Wilcox said the program would create regular health checks for people covered by the bill within 24 hours of a major incident.
Evans said regular check-ups are necessary because “it takes one or two more times for a person to get used to the therapist.” Mental health professionals need time to diagnose, treat, and manage any symptoms a person may be experiencing.
“I think it’s great that people are looking out for first responders and their families,” she said. “What they need most is after retirement.”