Connecticut’s governor signed into law a bill providing workers’ comp benefits to first responders diagnosed with PTSD.
By Steven A. Meyerowitz
Connecticut’s governor, Ned Lamont, has signed into law a bill providing workers’ compensation benefits to police officers, parole officers and firefighters who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing an unnerving event in the line of duty.
Previously, workers’ compensation covered mental health injuries only when they were sustained in conjunction with physical injuries. The new law extends that coverage, recognizing that first responders in particular can be exposed to events on the job that can cause difficulty coping or adjusting for weeks and months at a time, sometimes leading to intense flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and depression.
Coverage will be available to police officers, parole officers, and firefighters who have experienced one of the following six events:
Witnessing the death of a person;
Witnessing an injury that causes the death of a person shortly thereafter;
Treating an injured person who dies shortly thereafter;
Carrying an injured person who dies shortly thereafter;
Viewing a deceased minor; and
Witnessing an incident that causes a person to lose a body part, to suffer a loss of function, or that results in permanent disfigurement.
In addition, the law requires the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee to study the cost and impact of adding emergency medical services personnel and certain Department of Correction employees to the list of covered employees.
“First responders dedicate their lives to the safety of our neighborhoods, and we owe it to them to be there when the actions they took to protect others causes injuries to themselves – regardless of whether those injuries are physical or mental,” Governor Lamont said. “Modern scientific research is showing the immense impact that mental health issues can have on a person, and our statutes should reflect that. I am proud to stand side-by-side with our state’s police and firefighting community as I sign this important bill into law.”
The concept for the legislation was first introduced in the General Assembly following the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in which 20 children and six adults were murdered.
The language in the bill was written in consultation with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and police and firefighters union representatives after many months of negotiation and debate. It received the unanimous, bipartisan support of every member of the General Assembly.
“For too long, public policy has put mental health treatment on the back burner, and it has weighed mental health injuries on a separate scale from physical injuries. Those days have come to an end,” State Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), a longtime advocate of workers’ compensation reform and of coverage for traumatic mental injuries with no accompanying physical component, said. “This law is a significant step forward in the equality of treatment for mental health injuries. It recognizes that post-traumatic stress is an actual condition that can be treated, and when treated, allows a person to return to work. That’s what workers’ compensation is for. We owe it to these affected individuals – who so often go into harm’s way so we don’t have to – to help them put their lives back together.”
The idea of extending PTSD coverage to first responders is not unique to Connecticut. As new medical studies came out in recent years revealing the extent that mental health injuries could have on a person, several states considered legislation to allow standalone mental health injuries to be covered by workers’ compensation. In 2017, Colorado, Texas, Vermont, and South Caroline enacted legislation providing PTSD coverage for first responders. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, at least 16 states explored similar legislation in 2018, including Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
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