First responders have been rightfully celebrated in this country for everything from responding to calls about a residential fire to being first in line after a terrorist attack. But there are times when those that help us need help themselves. The state of North Carolina became the most recent to propose extending workman’s compensation benefits for PTSD to first responders.
Let’s take a brief step back to understand what current law is in most states. First responders are eligible for workman’s comp, but in most case this is restricted to physical injuries suffered on the job. The mental damages incurred have not been eligible. Some of this is due to a legal nuance called the “normal line of duty exception.” That’s been discussed previously in this space and in layman’s terms it means “they knew the risks.”
But do first responders really know the risks and is this a just way to approach PTSD? When firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than they are from charging into a burning building, it suggests a grave problem is afoot.
And states are responding. Florida and Minnesota have passed laws extending workers’ comp eligibility to PTSD. The Minnesota law has a particularly generous nuance, wherein a first responder with PTSD is presumed to have developed the condition on the job. This is crucial for workers, because the hardest part of collecting workman’s comp can be proving a mental condition’s direct correlation to the job. Minnesota has shifted the burden away from the first responders.
Society is growing in its understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder and how fatal it can be if left untreated. The trend that states like North Carolina, Florida and Minnesota are a part of shows that governments are responding to protect those who protect us.