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Leave policy forces officer injured in line of duty out of job

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

They are there when we need them: first responders. Police officers, firefighters and paramedics respond when you have an emergency. They put their lives on the line to save others, but what happens if they're hurt?

Lt. Rick Massie said he knew he could lose his life in the line of duty, but he never thought an injury sustained on the job would leave him permanently disabled and unable to work again.

"I have pain every day, somewhere something's hurting," Rick Massie said.

Massie moves around slowly these days. The former veteran Troup County Sheriff's deputy was forced to resign from a job he loved.

"It's one of those jobs you're not going to get rich at it. But there's some nights you're riding down the road, you feel like I did good today, and that's the days you live for," Massie said. 

June 2008, Massie responds to a final call on his way home.

"This blue Toyota comes in my lane and it's doing excess of 80 mph. We went headlight to headlight. The smell of death, that's what it had," Massie said. 

Massie didn't die, but he was horribly injured. His right foot was pinned in the frame of the car and had become unattached. One of the first responders was a close friend.

"The look in his eyes told the story. I looked down and he asked me if my shoe came off," Massie said.

His left knee shattered, back bone injured, Massie also suffered a torn artery and a bleed on the brain. Recovery was slow, too slow to keep Troup County from letting him go.

"A little used policy that states a member of the Troup County workforce, if you're not able to come back within 12 calendar months, you lose your job," Massie said.

The policy states, "if any employee fails to return to work at the expiration of an approved leave of absence the employee will be considered to have voluntarily resigned."

Worker's compensation covered Massie's numerous surgeries. Then he settled with the county for future medical bills. Just a few years later that's almost run out and he still can't work.

"My man card has taken a beating, it really has. I'm not going to lie. I have to watch my wife work 50 hours a week sometimes just to try to keep us through and then handouts from my 78-year-old mom," Massie said.

Attorney Lance LoRusso is a former cop who advocates for injured officers.

"How often does this happen to officers?" reporter Jennifer Mayerle asked LoRusso. "It's an excellent question and no one seems to be able to answer it. The standard throughout the United States is if they can't meet the grade anymore, they're dismissed for inability to perform the job," LoRusso said.

The National Sheriff's Association Purple Heart recipient spends his days at home, often unable to concentrate and constantly in pain. He stays in the dark to save money on the electric bill. His advice to other first responders? Fully know your department's policy and get as much disability insurance as you can afford.

"You do not think in a million years you'll lose your job if you get hurt. You think you get hurt in the line of duty, they've got your back," Massie said.

CBS Atlanta News contacted Troup County about Massie's case. They responded and said they don't comment on past employees.

For a look at policies at agencies across metro Atlanta, click on the interactive map above. 

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