KTTH

Officer after losing health benefits: ‘I’ve learned we can’t expect things from the city’

Mar 8, 2024, 12:23 PM | Updated: Mar 11, 2024, 6:49 am

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Kevin Bereta, 39, in a wheelchair leaving a hospital with his wife. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

After Bellevue and its police department received significant pushback for allegedly leaving a motorcycle officer without health benefits, months after he was seriously injured on the job, the city is considering adjusting its benefits policies to keep him — and future first responders — covered.

Kevin Bereta, a five-year veteran of the police force, was severely injured in a traffic accident last August while working on Vice President Kamala Harris’ motorcade during her visit to Seattle.

More on Bereta’s accident: Bellevue officer no longer in critical condition after falling 60 feet while serving VP Harris’ motorcade

“I suffered multiple injuries. I mean, my whole body was broken,” Bereta said on The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH 770 AM. “I was having blood transfusions and, like I said, I almost died.”

Recounting his near-fatal fall

Bereta reflected on the accident and how he was able to survive the 60-foot plummet onto Interstate 5.

“I remember instant panic because I knew where I was, but I couldn’t move,” Bereta recalled. “All that was going through my head was I needed to get to the side of the road. I don’t know what it looked like, but in my head, I felt like I was trying to roll.”

Bereta fell after hitting a curb, ejecting him from his motorcycle while on the Michigan Street bridge. The guard rail on the bridge is only 27 inches high. Luckily, a driver was able to stop before hitting him and helped him get off the road.

“I remember a figure walking up to me and grabbing my hand, telling me it’s going to be OK,” Bereta continued. “Next thing I remember was being loaded into an ambulance and the doors shutting. Then it went black. I don’t remember anything after that.”

At the time of this interview, Bereta stated he could only walk short distances, like from his bed to a chair. His current recovery routine involves ice baths, physical therapy predominantly in a pool, short walks with his cane and visits to a chiropractor.

“I can’t walk long distances. I can walk short distances,” Bereta said. “If I’m going out and about in the community where I need to be on my feet for a long period of time, I still have to take my wheelchair.”

Bereta’s path to recovery, physically and financially

Bereta was told it would take approximately a year to recover from his injuries while struggling through pain just about every day of the process.

“The union contract with the city stipulates that they will pay the difference after workers comp for medical, dental, life premiums,” KTTH host Jason Rantz said. “But they’ll only do that for six months and, unfortunately, the six months ran out Feb. 29.”

The Bellevue Police Department (BPD) tried to bring Bereta back to work with “light duties,” including remote work to allow him to keep his insurance eligibility. But Bereta’s attorney Karen Koehler of the Seattle-based Stritmatter Firm said his primary physician would not clear him. Koehler is representing Bereta, though no legal claims have been filed yet regarding his injuries or insurance status.

The Bellevue Police Officers’ Guild argued Bereta’s extensive injuries were far from the “typical circumstances” of an employee hurt on the job, and subsequently accused the city of “nonchalant” treatment of one of its own officers.

More on the Bellevue Police Guild and Bereta: Guild slams city response to officer’s on-duty injury

“The good news is that the community actually stepped up,” Rantz said. “They stepped up via the Bellevue Police Foundation and they’ll be covering the costs for the next several months.”

His medical expenses related to his on-duty injury will continue to be covered through disability insurance and Washington State Labor & Industries policies.

“It’s incredible,” Bereta said. “It’s really nice to know that people are actually supporting law enforcement at this time. For a while there, it felt like we didn’t have much support, and now it’s just pouring in. I’m really grateful for it.”

Before the Bellevue Police Foundation and other organizations stepped up to take on the burden of his medical bills, a GoFundMe was created by his friends and family, raising nearly $40,000 in just a few weeks.

“When one becomes a police officer, it’s told to them that the city will have your back. That your employer will have your back through everything,” Bereta said. “And then, I almost paid the ultimate sacrifice and I was told, we don’t have your back. We’re not going to pay your insurance anymore. Your family has to figure out how to get insurance. It’s very frustrating to almost die and then have them take my benefits away.”

Bereta has been making steady and impressive progress with his healing and recovery, according to the Bellevue Police Foundation.

“What have you learned from all of this, from what you’ve gone through?” Rantz asked Bereta.

“I’ve learned that we can’t expect things from the city,” Bereta responded. “We have to fight for what we need, and I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Despite the ordeal of getting his medical coverage back, Bereta still calls the BPD a family.

More from Jason Rantz: Bellevue officer losing health benefits after VP Harris motorcade injuries

“Whenever I have had issues, they have stepped up unlike any other job I have had before in my life,” Bereta said. “Whether it was when my kid had COVID, whether it was when I got injured on the job — I rolled my ankle once and was out for a little bit, but they provided meal trains. They made sure we recovered until I returned to work and I’ve never had that in any other profession. Everybody from the chief down to the officers, they step up and they help.”

I probably wouldn’t do another escort seeing that they don’t have programs to help law enforcement if there’s an injury apparently,” Bereta added.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram, and  Facebook.

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