It’s been just more than two years since Krystal Hodges’ husband, Devin — an Anderson County sheriff’s deputy — died in the line of duty during a boating mishap on Lake Hartwell.
Since then, Hodges has battled insurance companies and state agencies to win the payouts and tax exemptions available to her under state law and corporate policy.
“It’s very sad,” Hodges said.
She’s not alone.
Linda Pope, president of the state chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, or C.O.P.S., said there are about 70 spouses and 500 families of fallen first responders across South Carolina.
“There’s no safety net in place for South Carolina survivors right now,” Pope said. “South Carolina puts them through a whole lot of turmoil and it seems to be like quite an unfair system for these guys.”
Hodges, who lives in Hodges, wants to change that — and she’s found an ally in state Rep. John McCravy, a Greenwood Republican who plans to pre-file legislation that would create a governor-appointed post to assist the spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty with collecting their benefits and other support services.
“I would like to include it in an existing agency and there may be a way the governor can just do it and we can put it in the budget. But either way, I want somebody to help fallen first responder families in the state, and I am going to make sure it happens,” McCravy said. “They risk their lives and these people have given their lives so that we can be safe in our state. It’s good we have a monument to police officers who have fallen in the line of duty (on statehouse grounds), but let’s get help to their families.”
Pope said if it’s approved, McCravy’s legislation would be the first of its kind in the nation — laying the groundwork for other states to follow.
“I also think the state should pick up the tab for health insurance for life for the families of all fallen first responders, regardless of the department they work in, and we will make sure a bill is filed for this as well,” McCravy said.
Devin Hodges was 30 when he died on June 1, 2017 during a training exercise on Lake Hartwell.
Over the years, state lawmakers have taken steps to provide death benefits and compensation to survivors of first responders killed in the line of duty.
In 1996, for example, the General Assembly approved a lifetime property tax exemption for surviving spouses, but a requirement for that benefit is a deed of distribution to prove ownership of the home.
Children of fallen first responders who attend a 4-year, state-supported college also get a tuition waiver. But claiming insurance and worker’s compensation can be complicated as there’s no unified provider.
“There should be laws put in place so every single person is treated the exact same way,” Pope said.
Pope’s husband, Daniel was a police officer in Cincinnati when he was killed in an ambush on Dec. 6, 1997.
But Ohio legislators in 1976 created the Death Benefit Fund, which streamlined claims and worked with surviving spouses to ensure they were being maximally compensated. Pope said she’d like to see South Carolina adopt something similar.
“We’re trying to get everybody on the same sheet of music,” Pope said. “For years, survivors have been paying taxes they didn’t have to, and it seems like there’s nobody in this state that wants to fight for these guys and gets what’s due to them.”
Hodges views her work not only as a tribute to her late husband, but also as a gift to future families who may confront such a hardship.
“I want to try to make a difference for future spouses. We’ve had a lot more line-of-duty deaths over the past two years compared to what South Carolina normally has, and everybody is fighting for something different,” she said. “I want to take stress off of future survivors.”
McCravy said he’s working on the bill’s language with the state’s Legislative Council.
“We have veterans’ affairs officers who help those who have served our country, we have the military if somebody is killed in the line of duty but if somebody dies in the line of duty serving our state as a first responder or police officer, there’s no one,” McCravy said. “Certainly if it’s feasible, I’m going to do it.”