COLUMBUS – Ohio’s emergency responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder could be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits even if they don’t have physical injuries under proposed legislation a state Senate panel is considering.
It would apply to police and other peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians diagnosed with PTSD arising from their work. The current law doesn’t allow for compensation of psychiatric conditions unless the worker with PTSD has a related physical injury or was forced into sexual conduct.
The measure’s sponsors, Republican Sen. Tom Patton of Strongsville and Democratic Sen. Edna Brown of Toledo, proposed a similar measure that passed the Senate with bipartisan support last year but didn’t make it to a House vote.
Brown told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that emergency responders, much like military members, risk their well-being in jobs that often expose them to traumatic situations and violence. Helping them access treatment “is the right thing to do,” she said.
Supporters, including the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, say first responders deserve help addressing ailments that stem from their work regardless of whether those are physical wounds or mental health conditions and whether they’re from a particular incident or the cumulative effects of a career.
Similar legislation in other states has drawn criticism from police chiefs and local leaders who worried about the financial cost and raised concerns that it could lead to frivolous claims and abuse of the compensation system.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation estimated the change could cost employers $182 million annually and double the premiums for public employers. That figure was calculated with an estimate of 18 percent of first responders filing for PTSD, a percentage chosen based on a number of studies elsewhere.
Some bill proponents consider that an overestimation and don’t believe claims would overrun the system, Ohio FOP President Jay McDonald said. Though it’s difficult to gauge the prevalence of PTSD among emergency responders, they say the stigma associated with mental health problems could be one deterrent to fake claims.
Patton suggested the number of mental health disability retirements among Ohio police and firefighters could be a clue to limited use under the legislation. The Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund reported only 13 such retirements in 2013, Patton testified Tuesday.
Peter Burton of the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which studies compensation data and provides related services, said no one seems to track how many states have considered changes similar to the Ohio measure. But proposals on the same issue are pending in at least two other states, Connecticut and South Carolina.
Associated Press writers Mitch Stacy and Seanna Adcox contributed to this report.