“There was just that smell that saturated my whole body. My hair, my skin, my whole respiratory system.”
That’s Officer Gerry Realin, talking about the smell of death that still haunts him in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre that left 49 revelers dead and at least 50 others seriously injured.
Two months since the attack, Realin tells The Orlando Sentinel that he still sees “all the red.”
Realin was one of seven members of the Orlando Police Department’s hazmat team assigned the horrible task of removing each body from the nightclub; a duty he says they carried out with “dignity.”
Now, he’s been diagnosed with PTSD, but the father of two is worried he won’t be able to support his family, since the condition can’t be claimed as a work-related injury in Florida.
Realin, a 12-year police veteran, managed to show up to work for about two weeks after the attack, but then he began calling in sick or leaving the job early.
Soon, he began using sick leave and vacation days before ultimately being put on paid leave.
Now, he wants all that time reinstated.
Though it was Realin’s own psychologist who put him on “no work” status, Florida law currently doesn’t cover the psychological problems of first responders.
His family and lawyers want to shed light on Realin’s situation in the hope of changing the law.
According to Ron Clark of Connecticut-based group Badge of Life, only five states in the entire country pay workers’ comp for psychological problems brought on by the job.
“Usually if you break your leg in law enforcement and have psychological issues, you go out on workman’s comp,” he says. “Not with psych-only issues.”
He estimates there are around 100,000 officers nationwide suffering from PTSD, a condition that only worsens upon discovering that the law-enforcement industry is mercilessly slow in providing any sort of financial assistance in these cases. They have a much higher rate of suicide attempts than other officers, too.
“The man that left my house that morning did not come back to me that night,” says wife Jessica Realin. “He’s still not back.”