JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A retired police detective battling post-traumatic stress, cancer and a constant fear of homelessness in Southwest Florida, has finally won his long-time fight to obtain medical insurance -- and he credits the community and Sen. Marco Rubio for making it happen
Joseph "Joe" Locus has been fighting denials for Social Security Insurance for years, after he was diagnosed with police-related PTSD, and then later, kidney cancer. The 41-year-old Punta Gorda resident was relying on state Medicaid, which Locus said started denying his medical coverage following the removal of one of his kidneys.
Doctors feared Locus' cancer had returned, but because Medicaid would not pay, he was unable to afford the expensive tests to see where the cancer may be and then any needed treatments. But, that changes starting tomorrow. Locus was just notified he has been approved for medical coverage starting Aug 1.
"I was so surprised and elated," said Locus about the phone call he received. "It immediately dawned on me at that point, I could finally get my medical care I needed. So, I began quietly sobbing."
He added, "When you have been down like this and fighting for four plus years, it becomes a nightmare most times just trying to feed my service dog. So the call was surreal. I continued to ask if this was happening."
Locus, who spent 12 years in law enforcement -- first in New York and then in North Carolina -- made a choice to leave the police force and move his wife and two children near relatives in Florida, in an attempt to get his PTSD under control and save his failing marriage.
Despite the move, his marriage did end, and he also had to deal with the unexpected death of his brother. But, when he had lost all hope, Locus acquired his certified PTSD service dog Jinky -- who he credits to this day for changing him, protecting him and saving his life.
Jinky was by Locus' side when he was diagnosed with Kidney cancer and had to undergo surgery and cancer treatments. His recovery went well, until new symptoms appeared, indicating to doctors his cancer may have returned. But again, he couldn't afford the tests to see what was happening to his body.
Unable to work, and being denied further Medicaid coverage, Locus' friends reached out to the community with a GoFundMe to help pay for Locus' emergency room visits, living expenses, as well as the cost to care for Jinky.
"I was able to keep my home, it was so miraculous. I have been blessed by so many people recently that it has changed me," said Locus.
While he worked with attorneys to figure out his legal options, News4Jax reached out to Sen. Rubio's office about getting Locus' appeal for Social Security Insurance to be heard by a federal judge. That appeal hearing did come in June, with the decision finally made last week.
“I’m very glad we were able to secure more support for Mr. Locus as he continues to battle cancer," Rubio told News4Jax. "I wish him a speedy recovery and continue to pray for him and his family. It’s successful cases like these that remind us our work on behalf of Floridians can make such a positive difference. I encourage anyone facing difficulties with federal programs to contact my office – we are here to help.”
Florida residents trying to contact Rubio's office for assistance can do so through his website.
Besides Locus' medical expenses being covered beginning Aug. 1 -- which will include those needed cancers screenings -- he will receive a monthly $735 disability check, with the stipulation he not have more than $2,000 a month in his bank account at any given time.
Because $735 monthly is not a living wage, and because Locus is unable to work due to his health, Locus said the government approved the continuation of his GoFundMe account with it moved to a legal trustee. The amount in the fund has been restarted and the trustee will ensure any further donations are used for utility bills and the cost to care for Jinky.
Locus is actively looking for a less expensive place to live with Jinky, as his current rent is $800. By law, the GoFundMe donations can't be used to supplement his rent or to purchase food.
Locus wants everyone who saw his original story on social media and gave to his cause, to know how thankful he is that donors helped him pay his ER bills, his living expenses and Jinky's needs -- which kept them from becoming homeless. He also wants to personally thank Rubio and his staff for taking on his case and helping him get his appeal for medical coverage heard.
Police officers suffering from PTSD
According to The Badge of Life, a nonprofit with the mission of lessening the impacts of both stress and trauma upon police officers and retirees, there were 108 police suicides in 2016. And, according to the organization, for every police suicide, there are at least 1,000 police officers suffering from some symptoms of PTSD.
Moving forward, Locus hopes to send the message to all law enforcement about the importance of not waiting, and getting immediate help for PTSD. He said because he waited, he made personal mistakes years ago that he will have to live with for the rest of his life. He wants to share the lessons he learned, the hurdles he encountered, as well as the successes he was able to find, with all those who are wearing or have worn the badge.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.