It's been nearly three years since the 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, in which a San Bernardino County employee and his wife went on a shooting spree at a San Bernardino County work event in the Inland Regional Center, resulting in death and injuries to dozens of San Bernardino County employees. This week, KVCR is taking an in-depth look into the survivors' struggle with PTSD - and their stuggle to get San Bernardino County to approve workers compensation for treatment for the physical and psycological aftermath of the tragedy. KVCR's Benjamin Purper has the first part in a four-part series.
It’s January of 2018, over two years after the terror attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and wounded 22. Today, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors are voting on a 175,000 dollar contract to create a memorial for the victims.
The supervisors approve the contract unanimously, without any problems – but then, the meeting opens to public comment.
“It is fitting that such a memorial be established. However, that memorial will be tarnished for a generation in the living memories of those very survivors and families of the victims you memorialize as they suffer for the rest of their lives the psychiatric scars of the willful neglect of the County.”
That’s Robert Fredericks, an insurance specialist who personally knows several of the victims. Speaking directly to the Board of Supervisors during public comment, Fredericks describes how survivors are being denied treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, through the County-funded workers’ comp plaan.
“Of four survivors I know personally, three have had PTSD treatment denied. One was denied counseling benefits for 19 months and after 12 approved sessions further treatment was denied.”
Because they were at work when the attack happened, the survivors had to go into the workers’ compensation system – and because they worked for the county, they had to go into the county-funded workers’ comp system.
Part of that system is something called utilization review. That’s where physicians have to submit requests for their patients’ treatment to the county – anything from stool softener to opioids to psychotherapy. And it’s through utilization review that Fredericks says survivors are being denied treatment.
“I would encourage you to table the $175,000 contract and repurpose those dollars as well as the reserve fund for the memorial to provide the PTSD treatment these survivors need and deserve. I would suggest that the $1,000,000 reserve fund be repurposed to the PTSD treatment of the 12/2 survivors.”
David Wert, the spokesman for San Bernardino County, says it’s not that simple.
“Either whether we approved something, denied something, needed more information, in more than 99 percent of those cases, the county made the right call. So you know, as far as, in those instances where people have been denied treatment, it really isn’t the county’s fault.”
Wert says he and the county are sympathetic to the survivors, and recognize that they’re frustrated by utilization review. But he says that the California workers’ comp system is set up for things like a box falling on your foot, or you slip and fall in the break-room – not the kind of traumatic event these survivors went through. And that leads to a system that’s not really prepared to deal with it.
“Hopefully we have people up in Sacramento who are in a power to change that, but the county as an employer has no choice but to follow that less-than-perfect process because there aren’t any options under the law.”
But Robert Fredericks, who spoke out at the Board meeting earlier, says the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors could do something about it.
“What’s sad is that these people, the Board of Supervisors individually, they are not bad people. They are good people. But the tragedy is when good people do the wrong things.”
Fredericks works in insurance, but he also describes himself as a volunteer citizens’ advocate for the 12/2 survivors. He’s spoken to the Board about the survivor’s struggles in the workers’ comp system nearly a dozen times now.
“I have felt compelled in the absence of others having awareness and motivation and opportunity, to speak for the benefit of the 12/2 shooting survivors. It’s not official, I’ve not been appointed, I’ve taken it upon myself.”
Tune in to the rest of our series on the December 2nd survivors’ struggle with PTSD: we’ll hear from survivors, their attorneys, and the county.