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First responders and trauma symptoms: PTSD and work comp, part 1

Physical impairments are typically easier to see than mental ones.

Indeed, an aversion to dealing with issues of mental health is a significant national problem in the U.S. The horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 were terrible reminders once again of the trauma that unresolved mental illnesses can inflict.

But what about workers' compensation for police offers and other first responders who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when responding to scenes of emotionally jarring violence? In this two-part post, we will take note of that issue.

Nationally, police unions are pushing for PTSD to be included in the conditions that can qualify an officer for workers' comp.

The debate is especially poignant in Colorado and Connecticut, precisely because of the high-profile mass shootings there.

In Connecticut, the debate tried to balance care for police officers and firefighters affected by PTSD with concern about the impact on the budgets of local governments with limited resources.

Given the scale of the harm from mass shootings, however, the debate over this subject is inevitably emotional. For example, a Newtown police officer who responded to the Sandy Hook shooting scene told legislators about the PTSD symptoms that have kept him from working.

These symptoms include depression and anxiety. They also include thoughts of suicide and a constant sense of being re-traumatized by the past events.

Current Connecticut law does allow for workers' compensation benefits for police and firefighters who use deadly force on the job or witness the death of a co-worker there. But following the trauma of Sandy Hook, the legislature considered whether to extend those protections to all local government employees who witnessed violence or its after-effects and are subsequently diagnosed with PTSD.

In part two of this post, we will discuss how Colorado has responded to the PTSD issue.

Source: CBS News, "Police unions push for medical coverage of PTSD," May 16, 2014

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