Bill changes eligibility for workers’ comp PTSD benefits for first responders

Larry Limpf

Supporters and opponents have been weighing in on a bill in the state legislature that would remove a physical injury requirement for first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
House Bill 308, sponsored by Representative Tom Patton, R – Strongsville, would make police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service workers diagnosed with PTSD arising from their employment eligible for benefits under Ohio’s workers’ compensation law regardless of whether they suffer a related injury.
“An ongoing challenge is that first responders do not often take advantage of help through their employee assistance programs for PTSD-related problems,” Patton testified before the Insurance Committee. “Sometimes people are able to recover from acute stress disorder using their own coping methods and support from friends and family. However, recovery may be more difficult for some first responders, as they are exposed to major traumatic events and to chronically stressful situations. Unfortunately, there exists a real stigma around seeking help for emotional problems.”
The bill prohibits claimants from receiving compensation or benefits for PTSD at the same time they are receiving a disability benefit from a state retirement system for an injury.
The Legislative Service Commission estimates costs to the workers’ compensation system would increase by $44 million in the initial year if the bill is enacted. Future compensation premiums for public employers with first responder employees would also increase.
Mike Weinman, director of government affairs for the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, said the consequences of not treating PTSD have been tragic. Citing data from the organization Blue HELP (Honor Educate Lead Prevent), he said seven Ohio police officers committed suicide last year.
“Early retirements are not the goal of the FOP,” he told the committee. “Getting treatment for PTSD is the goal. As the VA has shown…..PTSD is treatable, and those who suffer from it can continue to have productive careers.”
Representatives of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and Ohio Township Association offered opponent testimony, telling the committee their members have concerns about the unknown cost implications of the policy change and the potential for a significant increase in claims.
“Our members are also concerned about singling out PTSD. Selecting one mental condition to the exclusion of others – much like selecting only a few occupations – will undoubtedly provoke fairness arguments and equal protection challenges in future legislative or judicial actions,’’ they said.
Matt Askea, a lieutenant with the Akron Fire Department and a Peer Support Program manager for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, told the committee that academic studies have recently recognized a higher risk for first responders to develop PTSD because of their repeated exposure to traumatic events.
“I have experienced many calls throughout my career that I can vividly remember years later. I remember the location, images, sounds, smells and specific details about these calls, of which I will spare you the details today,” he said.
Lake Township fire chief Bruce Moritz told The Press he supports the bill but has concerns about its cost and how it would be administered.
He said it is not uncommon for many part-time firefighters and EMS personnel to work at several different departments, making it more difficult to trace the source of a work-related illness or mental issue.
Rep. Patton told the committee a 2013 Ohio Supreme Court decision ruled that someone seeking workers’ compensation for a PTSD claim was ineligible to receive benefits if he or she didn’t have a compensable physical injury that caused the PTSD.
He said the decision could have “unintended consequences for police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers in our communities who have witnessed horrible traumatic events that can potentially leave them mentally scarred.”


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