DeSoto Sheriff fights to keep benefits for injured deputies

HERNANDO, MS (WMC-TV) - A debate is raging between DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco and the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors over the loss of medical benefits for three injured officers.

Monday, Rasco said he was pushing hard to make sure three of his deputies - injured in the line of duty - don't lose their medical benefits.

"I don't expect a guy whose working for me to put his life on the line and have to be worried about, well, 'If I'm gonna get hurt at work or not, get a serious injury and be off work for an extended period of time and not have insurance.'"

Earl Higgins, Joe Stanford, and Justin Melton will lose their medical benefits after 12 weeks on the Family Leave Act.  They could keep their benefits if the Sheriff has them work a light duty schedule, which Rasco said he did not know about initially.

"Nobody said anything to me at the board meeting about the Light Duty Act," he said. "I'm sure it's my responsibility, because I didn't know that."

County Administrator Michael Garriga says the law is clear: when FMLA runs out, the deputies are no longer entitled to paid benefits. The county suggested COBRA health coverage, which the deputies would have to pay for.

"We are not going to take them off medical health insurance," Garriga said. "We are going to put them on COBRA.  COBRA will entitle them to the same level of health coverage as an individual or a family."

Rasco said he intends to do the right thing.

"I know the county's doing what they have to do, but I'm doing what I have to do for my employees," he said.

Rasco said the FMLA for two of the deputies will end very soon. If he can get them back to work before that happens, their insurance will not lapse. If not, they would have to wait 30 days for their benefits to kick in.

They can only come back to work if cleared by their doctor.

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