Nearly nine months have passed since Vivian Eney received a telephone call telling her that her husband Christopher, a U.S. Capitol Police sergeant, was dead -- the victim of an apparently accidental shooting by a fellow officer during a training exercise.
But she has yet to begin receiving her husband's workers' compensation benefits -- about $1,800 a month, she said. And officials have informed her the claim could not be processed until a D.C. Superior Court grand jury has officially ruled on the shooting.
Shortly after a reporter's inquiries this week, however, a federal workers' compensation officer told Vivian Eney that she would begin receiving her benefits within 30 days although no grand jury has considered the Eney case.
The 37-year-old Christopher Eney was the first Capitol Police officer to die on duty in the department's 184-year history. But about a week later, once the 12-year veteran had been duly mourned and buried with full police honors, his widow said, the Capitol Police administration seemed to forget his survivors.
Consequently, she said, her loss has been compounded by officials' unkept promises and by financial complications, including a withdrawn offer of free psychiatric help.
"I don't think they were prepared for it," said Vivian Eney, 37, a housewife with 12- and 10-year-old daughters. "I think they considered themselves a safe police department, that somehow they weren't a real police department."
Vivian Eney was one of 157 survivors of police officers killed in the line of duty last year who took part in a two-day seminar here this week to examine the responsibilities of police departments to surviving families and the rights of the survivors.
Suzie Sawyer, executive director of the sponsoring Concerns of Police Survivors, said police departments are sometimes so stunned over the loss of an officer that "they unintentionally cause additional hardships on the family."
In the case of the Capitol Police, Sawyer said, the department was "extremely insensitive and uneducated" about what to do regarding Christopher Eney's death.
Capitol Police spokesman Robert Howe said the department had no procedure regarding the death of an officer when Eney was fatally wounded last Aug. 24.
John Gott, the officer who fired the fatal shot, was placed immediately on administrative leave and later on limited duty. Capitol Police and D.C. police homicide detectives began investigating the death.
"It's very possible that some mistakes were made," Howe said. "It was a little berserk around here initially. But things came together quite quickly."
But not quickly enough, Vivian Eney said.
Lawrence W. Rogers, director of the federal Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, said he could not comment specifically on the Eney case because of confidentiality restrictions, but he said he had "never heard of grand jury involvement in any of our claims."
To pay benefits to survivors, Rogers said, his office simply requires that the employer show that the death or injury was work-related. Asked what conditions would merit the use of a grand jury to substantiate such a causal relationship, Rogers said, "I can't imagine the circumstances of that."
Vivian Eney said she was told yesterday that the benefits will begin within 30 days.
Capitol Police spokesman Howe maintains that his department moved as quickly as possible in processing the Eneys' death benefits but that it was repeatedly told by the Labor Department, which oversees the the workers' compensation program, that a grand jury ruling was necessary.
He said the deadlock was probably broken this week when the police department's general counsel and the U.S. attorney's office began talking about the case.
"The long and short of it down here is that we don't know where all the confusion lies," Howe said yesterday. "We we can understand why she is distraught; she has been the one that has had to suffer."
Vivian Eney said her household has had to depend on taxable $900-a-month federal worker survivors benefits and $1,000-a-month withdrawals from her husband's life insurance policy. Even with her husband's full benefits, she said, she wonders who will compensate her for the taxes she has to pay on the civil service benefits -- workers' compensation benefits are tax-free -- and for the interest lost on the life insurance money she has been forced to spent.
Howe emphasized that there never was reluctance on the part of the police department to help Vivian Eney when she needed it.
She challenged his statement.
"Nobody came to me and said, 'Vivian, we are 100 percent behind you,' " she said yesterday in a telephone interview from her West Hyattsville home. "It would have been nice if the deputy chief or chief called and said, 'Feel free to come to us at any time.' "