Virginia Beach, VA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Four hundred and fifty employees in the city of Virginia Beach have filed workers’ compensation claims in the wake of a mass shooting there at the end of May.
According to the Virginian Pilot, city workers have filed claims for physical and mental injuries. Jeffrey Rodarmel, Virginia Beach’s risk management administrator, told the Pilot that the number of claims that have come in for the one event is the equivalent to what the city would normally get in one fiscal quarter.
As previously reported on WorkersCompensation.com, on Friday, May 31, around 4 p.m., hours after giving his two-week notice, DeWayne Craddock, 40, walked into the Virginia Beach municipal building and opened fire. By 4:08, officers responded to a call of shots fired in the building and entered to find the shooter. On the second floor, between 4:15 and 4:18, two officers found the suspect and engaged in an intense gun battle, according to Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera.
The shooting left 11 city employees and one contractor dead and four others wounded. The gunman was cornered in a room by police officers on the day of the shooting and taken to the hospital, but he later succumbed to his injuries.
At the time, Virginia Beach officials said they would do everything they could to ensure that victims, their families and workers traumatized by the event, did not see a single medical bill or other request for payment.
In June, Julie Hill, city spokeswoman, told WVEC the city had made arrangements with the local hospital to have any medical bills that resulted from the attack sent to the city’s workers’ compensation adjusters, so families would not have to deal with them.
But it is unclear whether the city will cover the mental health claims. Many of the 450 claims filed, were for mental issues, according to the Pilot.
According to the National Center for PTSD, about 30 percent of mass shooting witnesses will develop PTSD. Patients with PTSD can experience things like depression, reliving the event, avoidance of things that remind one of the event, changes in beliefs or outlook and hyperarousal, the center said. In PTSD however, the patient must be experiencing those symptoms for more than three months.
James Szablewicz, spokesman for the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, said it would be up to the city to determine whether or not to contest any mental only claims.
“Under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act, workplace assaults including shootings may be covered depending on the facts and circumstances. There are no specific provisions of the Act that address workplace assaults but there is a fairly large body of case law,” Szablewicz said in a previous email interview. “I cannot give you an advisory opinion as to whether the victims of the Va. Beach shooting would be entitled to benefits if their claims are contested. Whether any claims arising out of the Virginia Beach incident are voluntarily accepted or denied is up to the City of Virginia Beach and its workers’ compensation insurer. The Workers’ Compensation Commission will facilitate and process agreements for the cases that are voluntarily accepted and will adjudicate any claims that are disputed and filed with us.”
Szablewicz said any PTSD that emerges from the incident might be covered as well.
“Yes, in Virginia, benefits may be awarded for PTSD without other physical injuries depending on the facts and circumstances,” he said. “Several bills to make PTSD a compensable occupational disease were introduced in the 2019 session of the Virginia General Assembly: HB 1706, HB 2281, HB 2513 and SB 1465. The bills were specific to first responders and other specifically enumerated types of employees. To my knowledge, none of the 2019 bills passed.”
When asked what the city would do, Rodarmel told the Pilot that the city would be covering PTSD “on some level.”
Virginia does not automatically cover PTSD for first responders.
In Florida, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, and the Parkland high school shooting in 2017, legislators acted to cover PTSD for first responders. The legislation passed in 2018, after first responders said the incident, which left 49 people dead and 53 people wounded, traumatized them.
Florida’s PTSD coverage under workers’ compensation went into effect on January 1, 2019.
California, Connecticut, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Texas and Vermont have also added language to cover PTSD for first responders with workers’ compensation. A bill was introduced to cover PTSD in first responders in Virginia, but did not pass. Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, said that he would resubmit the bill in the coming legislative session.
The city also recently opened up a help facility, VB Strong Center, to help employees deal with the aftermath of May’s shooting. The center offers free mental-health counseling for survivors, employees, victim’s families and first responders. Money for the center comes from the U. S. Department of Justice.