RUTLAND - Rutland Police Detectivedied in late May 2020, after a multiple-week fight with COVID. More than three years later, his wife Joanne still has not received state "Line of Duty" benefits as a result of his passing.
Typically, when a police officer dies in the line of duty in Massachusetts, their spouse is entitled to a one-time payment of $300,000 and their pension. However, Joanne Songy learned the hard way that Massachusetts does not consider COVID-19 deaths for first responders in the early days of the pandemic as "line of duty."
She told WBZ-TV she filed her paperwork for line of duty death benefits immediately following her husband's passing at the age of 48.
"The responsibility of this home relied solely on my husband and myself. So, he was gone and now what was I going to do?" she explained.
Within months, in November 2020, she received federal benefits and her husband's name was placed on the national monument in Washington DC as a line of duty death.
Then, in the spring of 2022, the state honored Detective Songy at its annual memorial for officers killed in the line of duty. His name was listed in the program and is forever etched on a monument outside the State House in Beacon Hill as a line of duty death. At that same annual event this Wednesday, Governor Maura Healey spoke to the crowd about "the importance of government being there for our officers and for their families," she said. "And if there's nothing else you take away from my comments today, please know on behalf of the lieutenant governor and I and our team, we are all in."
"Our administration has met with Mrs. Songy and understands how important these benefits are for the families who have lost loved ones. We are assessing next steps," a spokesperson for the governor told WBZ-TV Thursday, a day after this story aired.
Joanne Songy said Thursday she has not met with them. She has requested a meeting with the governor's office, has not yet had one, and received a reply late Wednesday night about a potential future meeting after this story aired.
While Detective Songy's name is etched in the memorial as a line of duty death, three plus years later, his wife is denied the benefit of a line of duty death. She is unable to prove that he contracted COVID-19 on the job.
"We can't go to every one of those interactions he had with the community and ask them, 'Did you have COVID at the time?'" Joanne said.
Songy has hired an attorney and is seeking benefits through the Worcester Retirement Board, but her hearing has been delayed for weeks. She has also filed bills multiple times with the Legislature, and they have passed through committees but fizzled out by the end of session multiple times. She currently has a bill she's advocating for lawmakers to push through.
In the meantime, Songy now lives at the house she shared with John alone. Her adult children have moved out. She tells WBZ she spends 50 to 60 hours a week working to keep up with the bills. "I feel like I'm existing, not living," she said through tears.
Songy has been helped by Mario Oliveira, the local president of Concerns of Police Survivors ("C.O.P.S.").
"As a former police officer, myself, and almost dying myself in the line of duty, it's a slap in the face, and it should be a slap in the face to all of law-enforcement," Oliveira told WBZ. "Our lawmakers have always been progressive thinking, and forward thinking, and always ahead of the curve, but I feel that they have kind of fallen behind here with this issue."
The Attorney General's office declined comment. WBZ is actively reaching out to political leaders to learn more about benefits available or unavailable to families like the Songys.
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