First responders who died of COVID-19 denied line of duty death recognition, Abraham Vega’s wife fights for change
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Abraham Vega was a lifelong West Texan who dedicated 30 years to corrections in Lynn County.
“Some of the people that he had arrested, some of the people who served in his jail, called them in tears, devastated that he had passed,” Rachel Vega said. “To me that shows who he was as a sheriff, as a law enforcement agent.”
Like many first responders, Abraham Vegas’ job put him at high risk of exposure.
“He was a working sheriff. He was still taking calls during the pandemic. He was still meeting people in public. He was out all the time, doing calls in the public eye,” Vega said.
Abraham began to feel ill in early July and soon after, three of his deputies got sick.
“One of his employees, the Gil administrator had been sick off and on or had been sick all week had been there not been there. He went Saturday morning, on our way to Lubbock, the chief deputy sent him a text said I tested positive. We went to the clinic, he took the test, he came back positive,” Vega said.
Abraham spent two weeks in a Lubbock hospital before he was airlifted to Dallas, where he died. Abraham’s death left dealing with huge medical bills, funeral costs, and a broken heart.
“But I’m left doing my life alone. I haven’t even had a chance to grieve, because I’ve been having to go through this,” Vega said.
Like many surviving spouses, she petitioned the state for workman’s comp because she believed he died in the line of duty.
“He wasn’t killed by a car wreck. He wasn’t killed by a bullet. He was killed by a virus, which most people are surviving. He did it. It’s not different than if he had been on the way to a call and had a heart attack. But it’s dramatic to all the people he’s left behind,” Vega said.
Rachel is just one of at least 90 first responder families in Texas who have lost, not only a loved one to the virus, but the support of the state.
“It should be a very easy case. He got COVID at the office, that should be the end of the story. There should not be anything else I have to prove. If he was shot by an assailant, I don’t have to prove that he got shot on the job. Why do I have to prove that he got an illness? When it was he was there working? And he got sick,” Vega said.
That’s why she is fighting for Senate Bill 22, a law that would authorize COVID-19 cases as a line of duty death. It would work retroactively and for future state emergency illnesses.
“One law enforcement person, she’s a single mother, and she got COVID. She said, if I’m gone, what is there for my son? That one hit me a whole lot different because if she’s gone, her son has nothing. And so that for her, the monetary compensation is a huge deal,” Vega said.
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