Bill would make it easier for first responders to get treated for PTSD through workers’ compensation

Bill would make it easier for first responders to get treated for PTSD through workers’ compensation

A bill getting a public hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday would change the liability requirement for law enforcement officers and firefighters diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Under current law, first responders must prove the injury was caused by unusual stress greater than the day-to-day emotional strain of the job in order to get workers’ compensation benefits.

The bill would remove that requirement and make it easier for officers to get treatment.

“This is the ethical thing to do,” said Tresa Martinez, director of the employee assistance program for the city of Madison.

In her 26 years counseling employees with personal or work-related issues, Martinez has helped hundreds of first responders.

“For a first responder to come forward and say, ‘I’m not doing well,’ is not easy for them,” she said.

Martinez said many 911 dispatchers, police officers and firefighters use their personal time or power through instead of getting treatment for their PTSD.

Without proper healing, they often end up leaving the force. Martinez said the bill would help save the city money in the long run by getting them the help they need to come back to the job.

“For many years, we as a state have failed to care for those officers who acquire PTSD as a result of their service and the sacrifices made to provide that service. SB 564 will help correct that shortcoming,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

The bill’s fiscal estimate shows that in the last five years, 17 claims have been made by firefighters and law enforcement officers. None of them met the standard of proving the injury was caused by their employment, so they were paid minimal amounts.

Under the new bill’s standards, they all would have been approved.

The fiscal estimate also states “the potential liability for the UW System is extensive.”

This bill would include workers’ compensation changes for university police.

The state agencies operate a shared loss pool for workers’ compensation, so if one agency’s costs go up, the UW System would share in that increase.

There is no way to estimate how much this could cost the UW System or the state.

An officer awarded a PTSD claim in 2002 received compensation for life up to $1.2 million.