Beach officer maimed by drunk driver told benefits would be canceled if he didn’t take clerical job

(Click here to see part II of the video)

Virginia Beach, Va. – A Virginia Beach police officer, maimed by a drunk driver and unable to work in uniform, was told by city officials a new policy meant he’d lose disability benefits unless he accepted a low-level clerical job.

“I went through five surgeries for this agency, this city,” said Officer Christopher Newbould. “And they are kicking me out with nothing. They absolutely turned their back on me and it kills me.”

Newbould said he wanted to return to his hometown in Massachusetts with his wife and 17-month-old boy, maybe to teach college, but it felt like the city’s new policy was holding him hostage. He didn’t want the clerical job.

He asked NewsChannel 3 to investigate. It turns out the city’s position on his benefits, sent in an email to Newbould, was wrong, and the woman who heads that department has now apologized.

“I am sorry that email was sent,” said Patricia Phillips, who oversees Risk Management and several other departments. “It should not have been sent.”

Newbould said the trouble started when city workers alerted him to a December change in the city’s “Separation from Employment” policy. According to the revised policy, if a disabled officer turns down the city’s alternate job offer, “the City shall advise VRS (the Virginia Retirement System) that an alternate position is available, has been offered, and the employee has refused to accept the alternate position…”

The VRS has already accepted Newbould and was preparing his disability benefits. But to Newbould, it sounded like the city was trying to cancel them.

He said words like “refused to accept” sounded like there was a punishment attached. He said he asked several people in the city what that meant, but no one could tell him. Then, he got his email from Human Resources, quoting a decision from Risk Management:
“Natalie has indicated that if a position is offered to you and you decline the position, your disability retirement would be reduced by the amount of money you would have received had you taken the position,” read the email from Brandy Siegel of Human Resources.

It concluded with this: “I know this isn’t the answer you were hoping for, but I wanted to make sure you have this information.”

When Newbould did the math, it meant to him that if he turned down the job and returned to New England, he’d get no disability benefits at all. But a VRS officer named Jeannie Chenault told NewsChannel 3 that’s not correct. If a disabled officer turns down another city job, it has “no effect” on the disability retirement. Phillips also conceded that, and that the email sent to Newbould was wrong.

“It does not matter,” she said. “We know that it does not matter.”

NewsChannel 3 asked, if it doesn’t matter, they why does the city “advise” VRS that the officer has “refused” another job?

“That is our policy,” Philips said. “We keep statistics on that. We think it is important to do that from an accountability standpoint.”

NewsChannel 3 contacted several other Hampton Roads cities, all of which offer other jobs to police officers if they become disabled on duty. But none of the cities report to VRS if a disabled police officer declines another job.

And on Thursday, just hours before NewsChannel 3’s story aired, Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera sent an email to officers to allay confusion.

“Officer Newbould was offered a job at his current salary which he declined,” the chief wrote. “Because this is a new policy, there was some confusion about whether or not rejecting the job placement would impact his VRS disability retirement benefit. In this case, there is no impact and Officer Newbould has received notification from VRS that his disability retirement is approved. I have scheduled a meeting with City leaders on September 5th to better understand the financial impact of rejecting an alternate job placement for employees in other situations. It is my belief that employees must be provided with full disclosure of all relevant information that impacts their ability to make decisions about their future. And I strongly believe that employees need to be assured that the City will support them, particularly when they have sustained an on-the-job injury. “

Newbould said after NewsChannel 3 started asking questions, a bevy of city leaders began requesting meetings and calling him, all to assure him he would still get his benefits. He and his family can return home, knowing they will be cared for.

“We feel like a rock had been lifted off our back,” he told NewsChannel 3. “Thank you so much.”

Phillips emphasized the city’s goal is to help hurt police officers get the care they need and get them back on the street. She said her files are filled with success stories, and mistakes like this one are rare.

“We apologize that it did happen that way,” she said. “And I don’t think that will ever happen again.”

Here is the email Chief Cervera sent Thursday to his officers:

Channel 3 will be airing a news story this evening about Chris Newbould, one of our officers who was injured by a drunk driver over three years ago. There are several statements in the news story that need clarification and I wanted to take this opportunity to correct the record for your benefit as members of this department. The City implemented a new Separation from Employment policy in December 2012 which requires that employees who can no longer perform the essential functions of their job be given the opportunity to accept placement in an alternate job. This job placement is provided at full salary and even maintains the LEO benefit for sworn members if they are vested with five years’ service at the time of the placement. Officer Newbould was offered a job at his current salary which he declined. Because this is a new policy, there was some confusion about whether or not rejecting the job placement would impact his VRS disability retirement benefit. In this case, there is no impact and Officer Newbould has received notification from VRS that his disability retirement is approved. I have scheduled a meeting with City leaders on September 5th to better understand the financial impact of rejecting an alternate job placement for employees in other situations. It is my belief that employees must be provided with full disclosure of all relevant information that impacts their ability to make decisions about their future. And I strongly believe that employees need to be assured that the City will support them, particularly when they have sustained an on-the-job injury.

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