Mental Trauma Claims

States Ponder PTSD Coverage for First Responders

Four states are weighing bills that address emotional trauma claims from police officers, firefighters and ambulance workers.
By: | May 11, 2015

First responders who suffer emotional trauma after on-the-job tragedies are the focus of state legislatures in Arizona, Connecticut, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Arizona lawmakers did not vote on a measure that would have created a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder is occupational for first responders. Instead, the legislators passed and Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law a measure creating a group to study the issue.

H.B. 2438 will allow for a 15-member panel to examine and report on the effects of PTSD on state and local law. The panel must report on its findings by September 2016.

Meanwhile, Connecticut lawmakers continue considering legislation to provide workers’ comp coverage to first responders who suffer mental trauma after witnessing the death or maiming of a person. The measure would expand coverage for police officers, firefighters, and ambulance workers who meet all of the following conditions:

  • Saw a person’s death or maiming or the scene of such an incident within six hours after law enforcement officers secured the scene.
  • The death or maiming was caused by a person rather than a motor vehicle accident or natural cause.
  • A licensed psychiatrist or psychologist determines the worker’s mental or emotional impairment originated from seeing the death or maiming or its immediate aftermath.

The bill would take effect upon passage. It would require “the state, by October 1, 2015, to purchase a workers’ compensation insurance policy to provide coverage for any claims for workers’ compensation benefits for the above injuries,” according to a legislative summary of the bill. “Because the state does not have to purchase the policy until October 2015, municipal employers must cover their own emergency responders’ workers’ compensation claims, as is the practice under current law, between the time the bill is enacted and the state purchases the required policy.”

Opponents have testified that the measure would impose too much of a financial burden on municipalities. Supporters say mental health benefits are just as important as are physical health benefits.

This is the second attempt at such legislation. The first was introduced in 2013 after the Sandy Hook school shootings in December 2012 but was rejected by the state Senate. The latest measure has been referred to a legislative committee.

Legislation before Ohio lawmakers would provide benefits for emergency responders with PTSD. Current law allows coverage only when a related physical injury or forced sexual conduct was present. The head of a legislative panel said he wants to meet with interested parties before the committee votes on the issue.

South Carolina lawmakers are weighing a proposal to also allow first responders to be covered for PTSD. The legislation would provide coverage if the impairment arises from the worker’s “direct involvement in, or subjection to, a significant traumatic experience or situation,” regardless of whether the incident was “extraordinary or unusual in comparison to” the person’s normal working conditions.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected].

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