Is PTSD Covered Under Workers’ Comp?
If you’re a first responder, the answer to this question affects not just you and your quality of life but the lives of everyone around you. First, let’s start with the clinical definition of PTSD. The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”
PTSD Affects a Disproportionate Amount of First Responders
While any human being can be subjected to a horrifying incident that results in the development of PTSD, repeated exposure to traumatic events is an inescapable part of the job for first responders. Over time, PTSD can wreak havoc on their emotional, mental, and physical health, along with their personal relationships. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions, including but not limited to depression and PTSD, as compared with 20 percent in the general population.
But it gets worse: due to its detrimental and widespread impact on an individual and their loved ones, PTSD in first responders can be fatal -- as evidenced by a much higher suicide rate for first responders than the general population. A 2015 article published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services revealed that 6.6 percent of the 4,000 first responders surveyed had attempted suicide, more than 10 times the rate for other citizens. In law enforcement, estimates suggest between 125 - 300 police officers commit suicide every year.
Bichler & Longo’s Role in the Passage of SB 376: Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders
At Bichler & Longo, we recognized the urgent need for workmans’ comp to cover PTSD in first responders. As we represent Florida’s first responders across the state with disability issues, we witness PTSD’s devastating impact on our clients and their families. In one particularly notable case, Paolo Longo represented Gerry Realin, a police officer who suffered from severe PTSD after spending hours removing bodies from the Pulse Nightclub after the shooting in 2016 - the second worst mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.
Yet prior to the passage of Florida SB 376: Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders on October 1, 2018, PTSD was only covered by workers’ comp if a mental injury was accompanied by a physical injury that demanded medical treatment. When the much-needed bill was finally passed, Geoff Bichler stated, “We recognized this was a problem for a lot of our first responders who would have psychological trauma related to events that they may have witnessed.”
Understanding Florida SB 376: Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders
What are the parameters of FB 376? As outlined on MyFloridaSenate.gov:
The bill revises the standards for determining compensability of employment-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) under workers’ compensation insurance for first responders, which includes volunteers or employees engaged as law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics. The bill allows first responders that meet certain conditions to access indemnity and medical benefits for PTSD without an accompanying physical injury. Current law provides only medical benefits for a mental or nervous injury without an accompanying physical injury and requires the first responder to incur a compensable physical injury to receive indemnity benefits for a mental or nervous injury. Generally, the bill will increase the likelihood of compensability for workers’ compensation indemnity benefits for PTSD.
In other words, a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic can access indemnity and medical benefits for PTSD, even if they do not have an accompanying physical injury.
What Are the Requirements for Making a Workmans’ Comp Claim Under SB 376?
The bill creates an exception to current law to authorize the compensation of indemnity benefits for PTSD, if the first responder:
- * Has PTSD that resulted from the course and scope of employment; and
- * Is examined and diagnosed with PTSD by an authorized treating psychiatrist of the employer or carrier due to the first responder experiencing one of the following qualifying events relating to minors or others:
- - Seeing for oneself a deceased minor;
- - Witnessing directly the death of a minor;
- - Witnessing directly the injury to a minor who subsequently died prior to, or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department, participating in the physical treatment of, or manually transporting an injured minor who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;
- - Seeing for oneself a decedent who died due to grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience;
- - Witnessing directly a death, including suicide, due to grievous bodily harm; or homicide, including murder, mass killings, manslaughter, self-defense, misadventure, and negligence;
- - Witnessing directly an injury that results in death, if the person suffered grievous bodily harm that shocks the conscience; or
- - Participating in the physical treatment of an injury, including attempted suicide, or manually transporting an injured person who suffered grievous bodily harm, if the injured person subsequently died prior to or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department.
Additionally, the first responder must file a notice of injury with their employer or carrier within 90 days of the qualifying event or manifestation of the PTSD. However, if not filed within 52 weeks of the qualifying event, the claim is barred. The bill also requires an employing agency of a first responder to provide educational training relating to mental health awareness, prevention, mitigation and treatment.
While this bill is a much-needed step in the right direction, as Geoffrey Bichler noted in a Miami Herald article on November 1, 2019, “Most agencies are requiring people to come forward and seek help before they are offering it,” he said. “I think that is a regressive and unfortunate approach. We still have a very long way to go.”
Are you dealing with PTSD as a result of a qualifying event? Wondering if you meet the requirements of Florida SB 376?