Are Workers' Compensation Benefits Available To First Responders With PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be an unfortunate fact of life for many police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and other first responders. Being the first on the scene at a car accident, domestic dispute, or four-alarm fire is not only stressful, it can be heartbreaking, and many first responders struggle with the advice to "leave work at work."

But until now, first responders in Florida were unable to claim workers' compensation benefits for PTSD, even when this mental health condition could clearly be attributed to an on-the-job occurrence. A new bill headed to the governor's desk could solve this issue, ensuring that Florida's first responders are able to receive payment for lost wages, medical expenses, and the myriad of other costs that can stem from a diagnosis of PTSD. Read on to learn more about this bill and how it could change the scope of Florida's workers' compensation benefits.

What changes does this bill provide?

Under current Florida law, employees who are injured or made ill by an on-the-job event may qualify for workers' compensation benefits. These benefits are designed to make the employees as "whole" as they were prior to the event, and can include lost wages, medical expenses, counseling fees, prescription costs, and various other expenses. But unfortunately, the PTSD that many first responders found themselves dealing with after the Pulse nightclub shooting or the recent Parkland school shooting didn't count as a compensable injury under the state's current workers' compensation laws.

This gap forced many first responders to return to work immediately after these tragic events, ignoring the mental anguish and trauma they were experiencing. Suicide rates among these vulnerable groups rose, and many found themselves retiring or pursuing a different line of work entirely rather than risk suffering further PTSD after encountering yet another tragedy. The new bill, headed for the governor's desk, seeks to change this sad dynamic by adding PTSD to the list of conditions for which a first responder may receive workers' compensation benefits. This can allow workers to take some extra time off work to recover, pursue counseling or therapy, or even take prescription medications designed to help them overcome PTSD without worrying about losing their job, being demoted, or other adverse employment-related consequences.

When does this law take effect?

Assuming Florida's governor signs this bill into law, it will apply to all Florida first responders who have experienced work-related PTSD from an incident within one year after the law takes effect: or October 1, 2018. This means that the first responders to the Pulse nightclub shooting, including several who advocated for this bill's passage, won't be included; however, those who responded to the Parkland school shooting will be eligible for PTSD-related workers' compensation benefits.

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