Nearly four years after Jacksonville, AR Local 2030 member Jason Bowmaster was severely injured on the job in March 2012 – forcing him to retire – he continues to be denied his full disability and wage loss benefits. While the Workers’ Compensation Commission disputes his case, his family is struggling to make ends meet. He has also been denied disability assistance from the federal Public Safety Officers Benefit (PSOB) program.
“It is bad enough that Brother Bowmaster, due to his job-related injuries, can no longer do what he loves, but to be denied the benefits he needs to take care of himself and his family is a travesty,” says 14th District Vice President Danny Todd.
The IAFF is reviewing the case and will be assisting him through the PSOB appeals process. Meanwhile, the Arkansas Professional Fire Fighters Association (APFFA) is providing legal assistance to appeal the workers’ compensation decision.
“This appeal will likely be heard by the State Supreme Court sometime next year, adding even more time to an already drawn-out process,” says APFFA President Ed Jaros. “I am hopeful that justice will be served there.”
On March 19, 2012, Bowmaster was among the first responders to a single car accident that hit a gas main. Wearing reflective gear, the first responders waited on the side of the road for the gas company to turn off the gas. But when the son of the uninjured driver arrived, instead of slowing down at the accident scene, he sped up, hitting Bowmaster, fire fighter Donald Jones and a police officer. Jones was killed and Bowmaster and the police officer were severely injured.
Bowmaster’s injuries included multiple broken bones, including his femur, five ribs, pelvic bone and collarbone. He also sustained a collapsed lung, a bruised spleen and damage to the frontal lobe of his brain. Over the years, he has had several surgeries, but still experiences significant mobility issues, pain from his injuries, brain damage and post-traumatic stress and anxiety.
In Arkansas, fire fighters injured to the point of disability are eligible for Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System, or LOPFI, benefits. Additionally, through workers’ compensation, fire fighters are also entitled to workers’ compensation wage loss benefits. And since Bowmaster, a 14-year veteran fire fighter, would have had at least 15 more years on the job if he had not been injured, he is eligible for both.
But the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission maintains that LOPFI is similar to a disability insurance policy and is, therefore, subject to an offset as dictated by state law. This, of course, would reduce Bowmaster’s workers’ compensation benefits.
The APFFA is fighting the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission, arguing that it is disability retirement, not disability insurance. Consequently, this benefit should not be subject to the offset.
Using the APFFA’s attorney, Bowmaster is challenging the workers’ compensation offset, as well as the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s attempt to reduce his disability rating in court. Thus far, these efforts have been unsuccessful, and Bowmaster is now waiting on the appeal in the State Supreme Court.
Throughout this battle, Bowmaster, his wife Ashley and his daughter Bailey have been under serious financial stress.
“We are grateful for what our community has done for us, but it is not enough,” says Ashley Bowmaster. “We have learned the hard way that there is not sufficient help for fire fighters with debilitating injuries. After putting their lives on the line every day for their communities, this shouldn’t be the case.”
“If the appeal does not go our way, we are prepared to seek justice in this case through the state legislature,” says Jaros. “It will be our top priority to change the law to end offsets for Bowmaster and any other of our brothers and sisters in similar circumstances in the future.”
“Ensuring that other fire fighters do not have to go through what we are going through means everything to us,” says Ashley. “We will fight until we can fight no longer.”
For more details on Bowmaster’s story and details on how to help, go to his GO Fund Me page.