New bill makes it easier for first responders to get help with PTSD

New bill makes it easier for first responders to get help with PTSD

For many first responders, admitting they’ve been affected by a traumatic event is not easy. But a new bill getting a public hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday aims to overhaul the current system to get them the money and PTSD services needed to heal.

Over the past five years, the UW System had 17 workers comp clams from law enforcement and firefighters, all arguing they suffered from PTSD covered by current state law. None of those employees could prove that, but under the new bill the UW System predicts all would be approved. But that comes at a price, and several Wisconsin municipalities are lobbying against the plan.

Under current law, an officer, EMS worker, or firefighter must prove their PTSD and subsequent injuries were caused by unusual stress greater than the day-to-day emotional strain of the job.

The new bill would remove that requirement. First responders would no longer have to point to a traumatic experience to make their case.

“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.

Without proper healing, the officers 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.

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.

A public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.