On Monday, first responders gathered at the Lubbock County Courthouse to introduce Yolanda Garcia, who is now the liaison for injured first responders. Community advocates from Lubbock called for the creation of this position, while the approved legislation to do it was authored by State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, during the Legislative session earlier this year.
Garcia’s position has been created in the state’s Office of Injured Employee Counsel, where she’s been working with workers’ compensation claims since the office was created in 2006. Her focus is now on first responders.
“Our first responders put their lives on the line every day. It’s an honor to be here as a resource to them,” Garcia said. “The navigation to (workers compensation) can be complex at times, so that’s what I’m here for—to facilitate the steps and the process.”
Mary Duncan, West Texas Crime Victim’s Coalition president, has worked alongside city and state leaders as a voice for injured first responders, eventually collaborating with Burrows. The bill was developed after Duncan began seeing stories of injured officers, including her own husband, experiencing troubles with their medical claims, according to A-J archives.
Duncan was present at the news conference Monday and thanked everyone for their help. There were representatives from police, fire, the sheriff’s department, and emergency medical services, all who have access to this new liaison. There were several injured officers across the state present.
“We made history,” Duncan said. “That liaison is going to be based here in Lubbock. I mean, how much more could we have asked for? Not only did we get the House bill passed, but we’re able to have a liaison right here in Lubbock.”
The bill authored by Burrows, and co-authored by State Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, states an ombudsman will be created within the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation and will serve injured first responders by assisting them through the claim process and, if applicable, with any disputes that may arise.
Burrows said championing this bill was one of the great privileges he’s had in office thus far.
He said it’s unfortunate how often he sees stories of injured first responders, adding he’s come to realize just how long and arduous the health care process for them can become.
“The second half of the story sometimes is unfortunately filled with trials and tribulations, unnecessary fighting with insurance companies, trying to find specialists, trying to just get basic prescriptions,” Burrows said. “Hopefully with this bill we’ll have better service — that second chapter of the story is different.”
The Office of Injured Employee Counsel, according to its website, is the state agency that assists and advocates on behalf of the injured employees of Texas. Garcia will work specifically with first responders in the state to help with their workers’ compensation claims.
Garcia has been in this position since it was created at the beginning of September, and said she’s already been involved in 13 claims so far.