For survivors of San Bernardino terrorist attack, the trauma doesn't end

Published on
February 24, 2017

The survivors of the Dec. 2, 2015, terrorist attack in San Bernardino are still hurting.

Nearly 60 San Bernardino County public health department employees aren't just fighting to heal the wounds and trauma from the holiday party mass shooting that left 14 people dead and 22 injured.

After being attacked by coworker Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, at the Inland Regional Center, they’re also fighting to get badly needed help with their recovery through the county’s self-administered workers’ compensation program.

Some people were shot in the face. Some in the pelvis. They've needed surgeries, physical therapy, catheters and other treatment. Some have had to learn to walk again.

Others have been left with post-traumatic stress disorder — nightmares, depression, anxiety — and a need for counseling and medication. Some haven't returned to work. Others have tried, only to be put out on medical leaves.

Shortly before the one-year anniversary of the attack, The Press-Enterprise broke the national story about their struggles to recover and the obstacles they’re facing.

The paper ran breaking stories on the denials and delays for prescriptions such as painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, as well as mental health counseling. We told the story of one husband's demand for medication for his wife, who'd been shot in the face, and did enterprise work examining the wider problem through the experiences of several survivors.

We included their faces with their stories — for the few who were willing and able to talk. They said the denials and delays by their employer traumatized them a second time.

Since The Press-Enterprise's initial stories, long-silent survivors have gained more courage to speak out.

The issue was picked up or covered by newspapers, magazines and TV news organizations throughout the country. While other news outlets did one-time stories for the anniversary, the survivors’ problems didn't end when Dec. 2 passed and the rest of the media left town.

Other than a U.S. Justice Department pledge for $4 million to help in the attack's aftermath, no real changes have ensued to help the survivors or other California workers facing similar struggles since this news came to light.

The terrorist attack took place about 15 minutes from The Press-Enterprise newsroom. The survivors live and work in our coverage area.

Their battle to get the health care they need is one of the most important health issues facing our community. And it throws a spotlight on a broken workers' compensation system.

For my 2017 California Fellowship, I'm going to take a closer look at their struggle to recover, how the workers’ compensation system went wrong, and what, if anything, might be done to fix it.

The series will include narrative storytelling, video, an audio slideshow, photos, graphics and community engagement.