SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As a new bill heads to the House floor for a vote to extend line-of-duty to the families of fallen officers, a new foundation aims to help those families when tragedy strikes.
Last year the legislature didn’t know the fiscal cost for extending health insurance benefits for these families so they wanted a safety net. As they evaluated the cost they found they could do away with the safety net and extend the benefits for the families of Utah’s fallen heroes.
“As I looked at the challenges they faced after I met Nannette and Shante, it was clear that we weren’t doing enough,” said Rep. Mike McKell (R).
Last year the legislature expanded death and health insurance benefits for the families of fallen officers but that wasn’t a long-term fix.
“When that insurance goes away those services go away, so, the kids and the widows are aren’t able to maintain their services for mental health, just the counseling you’re going to need to get through these issues,” says Rep. Paul Ray (R).
Rep. Ray was responsible for helping extend those benefits last year, this year Rep. McKell has taken it a step further and put together House Bill 159. The bill would allow widows and widowers to keep their health insurance benefits, for life, even if they were to remarry. It would also allow the children to continue using those services until their 26th birthday.
The news of this bill comes on the heels of the official launch of a new foundation which will provide help and support for families of fallen officers, it’s name: “The Blue Haven Foundation.”
“By creating a mentor system of current widows they can relate to what’s going on,” says Blue Haven Foundation Co-Founder Brad Zeeman.
These widows and widowers will become mentors and reach out to the families of fallen officers, providing love, support, and help through the early stages of grief and beyond.
“I would never pass up the opportunity to help out a widow because I know what her nights are like, I know she prays for the day, and I know her kids are suffering, and so I will do anything I can to help,” said Shante Johnson, the widow of Sgt. Derek Johnson, and a mentor in the Blue Haven Foundation.
Sgt. Johnson was killed in Sept, 2013. Just a few months later in January, 2014, Sgt. Cory Wride would die in the line of dutyas well. One of the first people to comfort his wife, Nannette Wride, and understand her pain and grief was Shante. Nannette calls Shante her best friend – a tragedy brought both of these women together. As there is no national organization to help the widows and families after the media coverage has gone and communities go back to living their lives, Wride and Zeeman took it upon themselves to start Blue Haven.
“If we as widows and children of the fallen can lock arms and be together we can heal each other and I just believe that with all my heart, I’ve seen it, that’s how I have healed,” says Wride.
While their foundation kicked off today, they’ve already been out helping families heal, as they were there for Officer Barney’s wife, kids, and family when he was killed on January, 17, 2016.
The foundation isn’t just a Utah organization, the wives of fallen officers in Oregon and Colorado have also expressed interest in joining. There is also talk of starting a “Blue Haven: Kids,” which would pair the children of fallen officers are mentors to kids who experience the same loss in the future.
Meanwhile law makers are looking to make the law more retro-active and so will be going back to see how to cover current widows that missed the bill. They hope to have that discussion on Capitol Hill during the coming legislative session as one of the things that will need to be evaluated will be the cost.