Workers’ compensation insurance, commonly referred to as workers’ comp, provides coverage for injured and vulnerable workers in a variety of different industries. However, the types of injuries that qualify for benefits span far beyond just physical. In fact, in North Carolina, employees can receive benefits for various mental and psychological ailments as well. Recently, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become a factor in qualifying for workers’ compensation benefits, and it could help protect some of the most key figures in our society: first responders.
What H.B. 492 Means For Emergency Personnel Afflicted by PTSD
On May 6th, The NC House of Representatives passed H.B. 492, which deems first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder eligible for workers’ compensation. If passed into law, the bill would become effective July 1st, 2021, and allow law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, and emergency management personnel to receive benefits for psychological trauma sustained on the job.
In order to qualify for this compensation, workers would be required to be examined and diagnosed with PTSD by a healthcare professional. Furthermore, the provider must confirm within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the condition was initially triggered on the job as a first responder. This would remove the “catch all” provision that requires employees to show all evidence of causation and that their employer exposed them to an increased risk of developing PTSD, which could be a convoluted and discouraging process, as reporting mental health issues is typically seen as taboo or “weak” in the community.
A Firsthand Testimony of the Silent Struggle
This bill comes at a very opportune time in America, where tensions among first responders have increased substantially, and in the worst cases, turned dangerous. Some emergency personnel have directed their struggles with PTSD inward, such as Cpl. Bradley Evans, who gave a candid testimony to the key House committee.
He recalled contemplating suicide in his patrol car with his service weapon following an altercation in 2010 with an armed perpetrator who he shot in a parking lot. The suspect survived, but this incident resulted in Evans spiraling and moving himself and his family to different locations in an attempt to escape the trauma. It only worked temporarily before it caught up to him and took a toll on his everyday life and interpersonal relationships. As a result of his struggle, human resources placed him on leave for six weeks and he has been in and out of counseling and psychiatric care ever since. He has expressed how thankful he was for the time off and the role it played in his recovery, as well as the growing concern for fellow first responders in his position who did not receive the time, compensation and resources to regroup that he did.
Even Heroes Can be Victims, Too
Evans’s concern is, unfortunately, justified. According to a study published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, researchers found that first responders in the United States were approximately 10 times more likely to have suicidal ideations and/or attempt suicide compared to the CDC national average. Likewise, firefighters are three times more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. In 2016, The Badge of Life, a police suicide prevention program, showed that nearly 108 law enforcement officers died by suicide that year. According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, an estimated 113 firefighters and paramedics took their own lives in 2015. These numbers will continue to rise as long as seeking mental health treatment is taboo in these organizations.
This is where H.B. 492 comes in. In addition to just compensation and paid time off for those afflicted, this legislation would prompt employers to educate first responders on the effects of mental illness in order to increase awareness of the highly stigmatized phenomena, as well as encourage efforts to prevent the onset of these disorders and seek treatment when necessary.
Henson Fuerst Is Here to Help
Have you or a loved one endured mental or psychological distress while in the line of duty, to the point where it is disrupting your life? You may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The workers’ compensation attorneys at Henson Fuerst can help guide you through this process every step of the way. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced lawyers, call us today at 919-781-1107 or complete a free initial consultation form online. There’s no obligation, and our phone lines are open 24/7.
In the case of a crisis, help is available; call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Representatives are standing by 24/7.