Starting on Oct. 1, Florida’s compensation benefits will be extended to cover post-traumatic stress disorder, for first responders.
Legislature updated the Senate Bill 376 . Now emergency medical technicians, firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers can receive workers compensation benefit for PTSD . Beforehand, first responders were only covered if they had physical and mental injury.
PTSD frequently occurs after the experience of traumatic events. According to the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, there are several key symptoms of PTSD, which can include re-experiencing of the traumatic event in the form of intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks; avoidance in addressing the thoughts that are associated with people and places that evoke the trauma; and suicidal ideation.
“In the past, for all the years that I’ve been down here in Florida there was never any ability for an emergency services worker to get help through worker’s comp," John McMahon said, who is the assistant chief of operations for North Collier Fire District. "They had to either do it on their own or use whatever insurance the agency provided."
First responders often are in situations making them susceptible to PTSD. The Senate Bill 376 requires the government employee to be examined and diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist involving one of the several events to receive benefits.
The eligible events revolve around death. These events can include when the first responder sees a deceased minor or witnesses the death of a minor, including if the person was under treatment while traveling to a hospital, such as from a Florida mass shooting .
Events can also include witnessing the death of an adult, for instance, a homicide or suicide that "shocks the conscience;" participating in the treatment of a person's injury who soon died; and manually transporting an injured person, such as someone who just made an attempt on his or her own life, and dies before reaching the hospital.
Although this is good news, John said the senate bill might have some barriers.
“What's going to be difficult is that many emergency service workers develop PTSD over time," John said.
For instance, a first responder can be called to prevent a professional from leaping off a building. If the government employee witnesses the woman commit suicide by jump off the building, the death upon impact may be disturbing, but it might not immediately shock the conscious. Over time, after reflecting upon the tragedy, the first responder may show symptoms of PTSD.
"We deal with the cumulative effect," John said, "We’re going to have to document these calls so that when they come back, they can reference that.”