First Responders See Progress in 32 States for Comp Coverage

Chriss Swaney

Tallahassee, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Legislative efforts to make it easier for first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for mental health injuries, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), have been cropping up nationwide.

Florida is expanding workers’ compensation benefits for first responders to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law this spring.

The new law changes a rule that prevented first responders from getting mental health services unless they suffered a physical injury on the job.

“First responders and their families are why we fought to increase their access to mental health benefits this year. Firefighters alone are attempting suicide at a rate five times higher than the general population. First responders as a whole are attempting suicide at a rate more than ten times higher than the general population. There was no debate in my mind that they needed our help. First responders show up when we need them most, and we need to show up for them,” said Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s CFO.

At the time of the bill’s signing, Governor Scott said Florida is home to the best first responders in the nation. “We will continue to provide them support. I want to thank Jimmy and the Florida Legislature for their work on this important bill (SB 376),” Scott said. Click here for March coverage in WorkersCompensation.com’s President and CEO Bob Wilson’s Cluttered Desk blog.

Thirty-two states nationwide have amended workers’ compensation insurance benefits to include some form of PTSD coverage for first responders.

New York, for example, included first responders’ PTSD language in its 2017-2018 state budget. The rule prevents the New York state workers’ compensation board from disallowing a first responder’s claim for mental injury based on extraordinary work-related stress incurred if the stress is found to be not greater than that which usually occurs in the normal work environment.

California covers “psychiatric injuries” in the workers’ compensation system, but some experts report that employers and insurance companies frequently deny workers’ compensation claims for psychological conditions such as depression or anxiety.

And some first responders continue to spar with government officials state-to-state about the need for workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD.

Work comp coverage for PTSD has been an ongoing concern for Connecticut police in Norwalk.

“Excluding PTSD from workers’ compensation is wrong on every level,” said Norwalk Police Sgt. David Orr. “Severe emotional trauma is an injury that should be compensable. Working with PTSD is a financial and emotional struggle that no emergency responder should have to bear,” he said.

And after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, mental health care should be part of the equation for first responders, added Orr.

PTSD treatment can include grief counseling, as well as talking through the trauma in a process known as cognitive psychotherapy. One form of this therapy, called exposure therapy, helps the patient deal with cues and thoughts about the event.