First responders have taken center stage, from expanded coverage for certain cancers in firefighters to the inclusion of mental ailments for first responders, a clear trend is emerging in 2017. Five states have bills introduced that would allow workers’ comp to provide coverage for emotional and mental distress, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in first responders.
Connecticut has been pushing such a bill since the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting. Every year since, a bill that would include coverage for PTSD when a first responder witnesses the death or aftermath of death in the line of duty, but every year it fails to pass out of the legislature. Other states have introduced similar bills, including Florida where a bill was introduced to allow for claims of mental health ailments even without a physical injury and Texas where a bill would create a presumption that PTSD in first responders, not diagnosed earlier, was related to their job. Additionally, Minnesota and Vermont have also introduced legislation in 2017 providing some type of mental health coverage for first responders.
A big obstacle to such expansion of workers’ comp comes from the increase cost associated with such an unpredictable ailment. Cities, towns, and municipalities have expressed concerns that a mandate to cover mental and emotional health would increase their financial obligations, putting pressure on taxpayers. Further, such coverage, which has never been offered before, creates a vast unknown of how many claims would be filed, how much treatment would be needed, and how long treatment would continue. Finally, workers’ comp has traditionally required a physical manifestation of the injury, such as a lost limb or a broken bone. PTSD and other mental ailments don’t necessarily come with a physical representation.
To include first responder coverage in workers' comp would mean a big shift in how we think of workers’ comp, and even how we think of medical treatment. But as more and more states experience tragedies, and as mental health continues to be pushed to the forefront of our society, first responder coverage bills will continue to emerge.