‘To me it’s an injury’: Police chiefs testify support for bill that would allow officers to use Worker’s Comp for PTSD recovery

 

For at least the last three years in Wisconsin, more law enforcement officers have died by suicide than in the line of duty, according to the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

The executive director of the state’s largest police group testified to that fact during public comment Thursday on a bill that seeks to remove barriers for public safety officers, including police and fire, to file claims with the Worker’s Compensation Fund for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, treatment and recovery.

“We’ve come a long way as a country in recognizing PTSD and the signs and how to treat it,” said Jim Palmer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. “But law enforcement officers haven’t had that opportunity to benefit from that, and that’s why this is so important.”

He said the current law is based off a 1974 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that requires public safety officers demonstrate a diagnosis based on unusual stress of greater dimensions than the day-to-day emotional strain and tension experienced by similarly situated employees, which this bill would explicitly get rid of.

“It basically says that any incident of traumatic experience must be over and above what is normal,” said Chief Greg Leck, the legislative co-chair for the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association. “Well, what’s normal for a public safety person? Everything.”

Palmer said this would clear up which insurance provider, private or Worker’s Compensation, would pay for treatment, and it would allow public safety officers to take up to 32 weeks off of work to fully recover from their PTSD instead of using vacation time, which he said happens now, though some agencies will put officers on paid administrative leave.

Leck said he knows firsthand what it’s like to deal with PTSD, and he’s seen how common it is among others in police work.

“To me it’s an injury,” he said. “And if it’s an injury, it can be healed.”

Others from his organization addressed lawmakers Thursday, sharing their experiences with handling the day-to-day stress of the job.

“I remember my first death scene,” said Chief Ken Pileggi during his turn in front of legislators. “(I) remember the girl’s name. I remember what happened. I remember what she looks like. It’s burned in my memory.”

The bill has bipartisan support in both houses of the state Legislature. Some representatives expressed hesitations at the exclusion of Emergency Medical Service workers, though Rep. Cody Horlacher, R-Mukwonago, one of the bill’s authors, said he would be open to additional legislation to expand the changes to EMS workers in the future.

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