Proposed law would grant first responders worker's comp for PTSD

By  | 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Studies show 15 percent of firefighters contemplate suicide sometime in their career, often due to PTSD resulting from the things they see.

But in Florida, firefighters and other first responders can’t be compensated for a work-related mental injury unless the suffered a physical injury along with it. New Legislation would change that.

Prior to a vote in a Senate committee, lawmakers joined the families of three first responders who developed PTSD.

All three of the first responders were ineligible for worker's compensation because they didn’t also have a physical injury. Unable to access care, two ended their lives.

"David took his own life because he could no longer live with the nightmares he experienced during his career," said Leslie Dangerfield, who lost a loved one to PTSD.

The other, a first responder at the Pulse Nightclub Shooting, lost his job.

Their stories aren’t unique. In America, more first responders are lost to suicide than in the line of duty.

“We know that this is happening and we're doing nothing about it," said Representative Matt Willhite.

It’s why Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis wants local governments to cover mental health injuries as they would a physical injury.

“It's our time to step up and make a difference," Patronis said.

Although cities say they support first responders, they worry the broad language in the bill would result in too high a cost on local governments.

Similar Legislation in Ohio was estimated to cost $189 million a year.

“We suspect costs could be even higher for Florida," said David Cruz, a lobbyist for the League of Cities.

Supporters say they’ll work on a compromise, but…

“I don't care what the price is. These folks are fighting for us each and every day," said Senator Lauren Book.

Bill sponsors estimate the coverage will cost the state between $1.3 and $5 million a year, but no one really knows.

The Senate version of the bill was given unanimous approval by its second committee stop Tuesday afternoon.