Hartford, CT (WorkersCompensation.com) – Nearly 10 years after a police officer was denied workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from a horrific attack by a chimpanzee on a woman, the Connecticut legislature has voted to expand the definition of personal injury. If signed by Gov. Ned Lamont, police officers, firefighters and some parole officers with work-related PTSD would be entitled to indemnity and medical benefits.
For injuries that occur on or after July 2019, SB 164 would provide benefits to affected first responders who are diagnosed with PTSD “caused by their participation in certain qualifying events.” Specifically, “seeing, while in the line of duty, a deceased minor, someone’s death, or a traumatic physical injury that results in the loss of a vital body part,” according to a legislative summary of the bill. “Current law generally does not provide workers’ compensation benefits for an employee’s mental or emotional injury unless it arises from the employee’s physical injury or occupational disease.”
The PTSD diagnosis must be made by “a board-certified psychiatrist or a licensed psychologist who has experience diagnosing and treating PTSD.” Included would be medical treatment provided by the professional, temporary total incapacity benefits (wage replacement), and temporary partial incapacity benefits — meaning payment to “make up the difference between the employee’s regular wage and what he or she earns by working at a reduced capacity,” the summary explains.
The impetus for the bill was the denial of benefits for a Stamford police officer who developed PTSD after witnessing a chimpanzee’s vicious attack that destroyed a woman’s face. Support for expanding PTSD coverage was further endorsed following the Newtown, Conn. School shooting in 2012. But opponents argued the measure would prove too costly.
The measure approved in the state Senate and unanimously in the House last week:
- Establishes the eligibility requirements for these first responders to receive PTSD benefits
- Limits the benefits’duration to 52 weeks
- Limits availability of benefits to no more than four years after the qualifying event
- Reduces the amount of weekly PTSD benefits the first responder may receive by the amount of other benefits received — such as from a pension, Social Security, or disability insurance —if the total benefits exceed the first responder’s average weekly wage
- Establishes a process for employers to contest PTSD claims.
The legislation also clarifies that before a law enforcement unit returns surrendered weapons or ammunition to an officer, the unit to request that the officer be examined by a board-certified psychiatrist or licensed psychologist who has experience diagnosing and treating PTSD to determine whether the officer is ready to report for official duty and must be paid for by the law enforcement unit.
Missing from the legislation is the inclusion of paramedics and ambulance drivers. However, it does require the Labor and Public Employees Committee, by February 1, 2020, to examine the feasibility of expanding the bill’s PTSD benefits to cover EMS personnel and Department of Corrections’ employees who are not otherwise eligible for benefits under the bill. “In doing so, the committee must consult with representatives from the Workers’ Compensation Commission, workers’ compensation claimants, employers, insurers, and municipalities,” the legislative summary states. “The committee may also consult with anyone else it deems appropriate. If the committee determines that it is feasible to expand the bill’s PTSD benefits during the next legislative session, it must originate a bill making the EMS personnel and DOC employees eligible for the benefits based on a qualifying event occurring on or after July 1, 2019.”
Paramedics and ambulance drivers had asked lawmakers to add them to the list of first responders who would be covered by workers’ compensation. Thousands of EMTs and paramedics across the state recently signed a petition asking for their jobs to be included in the bill.
Within the last couple of weeks, a Republican amendment included EMTs in the legislation in response to the petition. But the amendment drew fire from Democrats in the legislature who felt it might hinder the bill’s chances of passage.
Before last Friday’s final passage of the bill, Rep. Pat Boyd, (D-50th District) had said on Twitter that he felt the bill’s chances were good.
“I met with Paramedic Derrick Caranci and accepted a petition signed by 8,310 residents to include EMS in the PTSD bill. I am committed to adding EMS if not this session, then as a stand-alone bill in the next session. After 9 years the PTSD bill looks like it will pass.”
EMTs and ambulance drivers, however, had said the bill should have included them.
“While this is a huge step forward for fire and police across Connecticut, the bill as passed completely ignores a huge portion of the state’s first responders,” Philip Petit, national director of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics told The Record Journal.
But some ambulance companies saw the bill is a necessary first step.
“The current proposal needs additional changes but provides a number of important coverage details previously absent,” said David Lowell, with the Association of Connecticut Ambulance Providers in a press statement. “Although the current version does not include emergency medical technicians and paramedics, we believe there are now sufficient details that warrant consideration and we, the member companies of ACAP, are open to such discussions and consideration.”