WILG Blog


Posted by: James Monast on Mar 23, 2020

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t a physical injury. It’s a psychological condition caused by exposure to a traumatic event. While PTSD has gained acceptance as a legitimate disabling condition in recent years, Ohio is just now taking the first steps toward acknowledging it as such for some of our most heavily-impacted workers: first responders.

 

In February 2020, the Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 308, which will allow firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement officers, and other emergency personnel to collect workers’ compensation for PTSD. However, until this bill passes the Senate and is enacted into law, first responders in Ohio can only collect workers’ comp for PTSD if they also have a work-related physical injury.

 

Why the Current Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Standard Is Insufficient

Only nine states offer workers’ comp coverage for PTSD that isn’t accompanied by a physical injury. Ohio is on the right path to joining this exclusive group, but until it does, it’s among the majority of states that fail to recognize the seriousness of this condition and the disproportionate representation of first responders among workers diagnosed with PTSD.

 

Arguably the most important members of our communities, first responders are exposed to trauma daily. When attending to fires, accidents, violent crimes, and medical emergencies, first responders not only witness disturbing scenes but are also expected to act quickly to save victims. This pressure is psychologically taxing and, when experienced repeatedly during a career, can take a toll.

 

According to a survey conducted by the University of Phoenix in 2017, 84 percent of first responders say they’ve experienced traumatic events on the job, and 34 percent were formally diagnosed with mental health disorders, including depression and PTSD.

 

A tragic example of the stress felt by first responders right here in Ohio is Orange Township firefighter Trevor Murphy. Twice while on the job, he held victims as they died. Afterward, Trevor struggled with depression and, his mother believes, PTSD. He took his own life in 2019. His mother was quoted in The Columbus Dispatch as saying that if her son could have taken time off to heal after experiencing these events, he would probably still be alive today. She thinks having access to workers’ comp benefits for PTSD would have made the difference for her son.

 

Recognizing Symptoms of PTSD

It’s not just first responders who experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Servicemen and women returning from combat often struggle with PTSD. Victims of violent crimes or car accidents can also develop the condition. However, for now, Ohio is limiting workers’ comp coverage to first responders.

 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an individual must experience these symptoms for at least a month to be formally diagnosed with PTSD:

 

  • Re-experience events. A person who experienced a traumatic event may relive it repeatedly through flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts.
  • Avoidance. A common symptom of PTSD is avoiding places, individuals, events, or objects that remind someone of the trauma. They may also try to suppress thoughts and feelings related to the event.
  • Reactivity and arousal. Not sleeping, feeling on edge, being easily startled, and having angry outbursts can be constant emotional states for people with PTSD.
  • Cognition and mood. When a person who has experienced or witnessed trauma cannot recall the event, has negative thoughts about themselves, has unrealistic feelings of guilt, or loses interest in activities they used to love, these characteristics also indicate PTSD.

 

While many people will have these symptoms after trauma, a PTSD diagnosis requires a person experience symptoms from each category for a month or longer. The difficulty of carrying out one’s job duties—particularly as first responders—while experiencing these symptoms is clear: emergency personnel suffering from flashbacks, insomnia, avoidance, and outbursts cannot be considered fit to work.

 

If this new legislation passes the Ohio Senate, they won’t have to—they’ll have access to the treatment they need and the necessary time to heal.

 

Get Help From an Ohio Workers’ Comp Attorney

If you have questions about workers’ comp coverage for mental health issues in Ohio, turn to Monast Law Office. My team and I have helped Ohioans get the benefits to which they’re entitled for over 30 years. I would be happy to answer your questions and provide you with more information.

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