After a slowdown in activity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that legislative activity surrounding the compensability for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions among first responder populations is once more catching fire.
While any person can develop PTSD if they experience a traumatic enough event, PTSD is particularly prevalent for first responders as the nature of their work regularly exposes them to potentially traumatic events. Firefighters, police officers, and EMTs can bear witness to horrific injuries and death. Firefighters and police in particular may experience the death of a colleague or civilian in the line of duty, while police officers may be forced to confront gruesome crime scenes, violent encounters, and crimes involving children, sexual abuse, and other disturbing elements.
Lawmakers have once more returned to this issue with great vigor, introducing legislative bills in many states. If these laws are enacted, then the workers’ comp system must be ready to provide benefits to this unique employee population.
Virginia Senate Bill 1088 would add dispatchers to the list of qualifying professionals covered by PTSD compensability laws, while House Bill 1775 and Senate Bill 904 both propose the addition of anxiety disorders and depression to compensable mental injuries suffered by law enforcement and firefighters.
Connecticut House Bill 5184 seeks to cover dispatchers under current PTSD compensability laws. On a more broad scope, Connecticut Senate Bill 91 has been written to expand PTSD presumptions to all workers who witness or experience a qualifying event, such as death and grave injuries.
Nebraska Legislative Bill 5 would make mental injuries and illnesses unaccompanied by physical injury compensable for first responders who experience workplace violence.
West Virginia House Bill 2025 would alter language in current PTSD laws for first responders, allowing compensation for PTSD diagnosed by any licensed mental health provider; current language only allows for compensability when PTSD is diagnosed only by a psychiatrist.
Indiana House Bill 1136 would create state-funded program to provide income and mental health services to first responders diagnosed with PTSD following qualifying critical incidents.
Kansas Senate Bill 165 would add PTSD to the list of conditions that qualifies as an injury for first responders, covering firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical service providers – this would apply to first responders that are paid or a duly authorized volunteer.
New York Senate Bill 3367 would grant PTSD coverage to first responders whose PTSD was diagnosed by a psychiatrist or psychologist, so long as there is not a preponderance of evidence that the PTSD was caused by nonservice risk factors or traumatic exposure. This bill would apply to police officers, correction officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency dispatchers or those certified to provide medical care in emergencies.
An interesting new development is that some states are proposing PTSD presumptions but attaching limitations to treatments.
Oklahoma Senate Bill 333 would make post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compensable for first responders, but first responders with PTSD without a physical injury would be limited to one year of medical treatment and employers would not be responsible for prescription costs in excess of $10,000.
Maryland Senate Bill 406 and House Bill 335 both propose PTSD coverage for police officers, firefighters, members of rescue squads, correctional officers, and 911 dispatchers. However, benefits from these bills would be capped at two years from diagnosis.
New Mexico House Bill 427 would grant police and emergency medical service workers PTSD coverage under workers’ comp if they receive a diagnosis related to a workplace incident. Unlike most PTSD bills for first responders, this bill does not apply to firefighters. According to the bill, the PTSD diagnosis must result in physical impairment, primary or secondary mental impairment, or death in order for workers to qualify for benefits. If a court subsequently determines that PTSD is not related to employment, providers must be reimbursed for healthcare costs.