Injured Edgewater officer says lost benefits are 'slap in the face'

City says medical coverage issued 'in error'

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

At least two injured veteran police officers with the city of Edgewater will lose the enhanced family medical coverage they have been receiving for years because of what the city has deemed an “error.”

Officers Dave Gamell and Gary McElroy were both issued disability and long-term medical insurance after suffering heart attacks while on the job roughly seven years ago.

“It’s a slap in the face not only to me but all the officers everywhere in the United States that put their lives on the line every day,” Gamell told News 6.

Edgewater Mayor Mike Ignasiak said the officers are not at fault but that the free benefits will be cut off effective Oct. 1 because they never were eligible for paid medical coverage.

“The HR (human resources) director is the one that is in charge of all that and that’s the gate keeper and that’s where we had the betrayal of trust,”  Ignasiak said.

Ignasiak said the current city manager was asked to review the benefits following  a pension board review of a new request for complete medical coverage of another officer.

Ignasiak said the city manager found that under Florida statute 112.119 only an officer killed or suffering   catastrophic injury in the line of duty  would be eligible for “enhanced benefits.”

The city contends the heart attacks do not meet that threshold.

Gamell said he signed a pension agreement with the city in 2013 that included his workmans' comp, pension benefits and medical benefits.

The agreement is sealed, but News 6 has confirmed that agreement was signed by the attorney representing the city of Edgewater at the time.

Attorney Geoff Bichler said the city’s sudden reversal of benefits is “egregious.”

Bichler, a longtime Winter Park attorney specializing in cases involving first responders, said the only explanation the city  is giving is “that they had made a mistake.”

Ignasiak said the city does not expect the officers to repay the funds (estimated at $200,000) and if documents prove they had a signed agreement with Edgewater ,the city “will honor it.”

Still for now, Ignasiak said, “ I can’t keep asking taxpayers to pick up the bill.”

News 6 advised the city Monday  that the sealed documents exist and should prove the officers are entitled to the free medical benefits.

 

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