Should Spouses of Retired First Responders Get Free Mental Health Resources?

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R. Ogden, speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on February 18, 2022. Wilcox is sponsoring a bill that would provide mental health services to spouses of retired law enforcement officers and others. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R. Ogden, cites the tragic case of Nate Lyday, which led to five police officers quitting their jobs because their spouses begged them to look for new ones, when talking about the new mental health services bill.

Liddy, a second generation police officer, was shot while answering a domestic violence call in 2020. He had been working for the Ogden Police Department for 15 months.

Wilcox said he was “doing studies and looking at the data, and there were a lot of (people) who abused themselves with alcohol … and about two-thirds of the department were classified as ‘at risk’ and one-third were ‘at active risk of suicide'”.

Emergency services and police work are causing intense stress for years to come affecting not only first responders but their families as well.

In 2022, the state of Utah passed legislation giving first responders and their families free access to mental health professionals and other mental health resources. But it did not include spouses of retirees.

Wilcox is now seeking to change that.

We lose too many to suicide, we lose too many family members, not only to suicide, but to divorce.

– re / count. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden

HB59 will provide mental health services to spouses of retired law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters, dispatchers, corrections officers, CSI technicians, and search and rescue workers.

The bill also adds forensic interlocutors and members of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force 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, once a first responder retires, their access to mental health services is revoked and it is no longer available to their spouse.

The unsung heroes behind (first responders) are the families.

Heidi Evans, wife of retired Iron County Sheriff Lieutenant David Evans

“We lose a lot of suicide, we lose a lot of family members, not just to suicide, but to divorce,” Wilcox said.

Heidi Evans, wife of retired Iron County Sheriff Lt. David Evans, shared her experience.

“The unsung heroes behind[the first responders]are the families,” Evans said.

Evans described her own struggles.

“I was there watching my husband go through PTSD,” she said. “Maybe I should get some help. I’ve always tried to give my best…but sometimes we get stuck and need an outlet.”

Evans said it’s important to destigmatize mental health treatment for first responders, their families, and others. She said it has reached a point where mental health is not a taboo.

The bill also provides for “regular and ongoing” appointments for first responders and their families, including retirees and their spouses.

Wilcox said the program establishes routine screenings for those billed within 24 hours of a serious accident.

Evans said regular check-ups are essential because “it takes more than once or twice for a person to feel comfortable with that therapist.”

Evans said mental health professionals need time to diagnose, treat and manage symptoms a person may be experiencing.

“I think it’s great that people are looking out for first responders and their families,” she said. “After retirement is the time when they need it most.”

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