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First responders and work comp in Colorado: the issue of PTSD

The physical injuries that many first responders suffer are serious and significant. They include such things as a police officer getting shot or a firefighter suffering a fall in a burning building.

The mental injuries that these front-line workers may suffer are not as straightforward, but they can result in devastating damage. Numerous first responders run into severe psychological problems, and many take their own lives due to untreated post-traumatic stress.

How is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is work-related handled under Colorado's workers' compensation law? In this post, we will address that question.

What the law is - and how it's evolving elsewhere

The general rule is that if an injury occurred on the job, it is covered by workers' compensation. For first responders, this includes car accidents, shootings, falls and other physical injuries.

Getting workers' compensation for job-related PTSD, however, is problematic. In most states, PTSD isn't recognized as a condition that is covered by work comp.

This is starting to change, however, in response to the reality that so many first responders really are harmed by the terrible things they encounter on the job.

Some jurisdictions have changed their laws to make it clear that a first responder who has been diagnosed with PTSD doesn't have to show a causal connection between that condition and what happened on the job.

The most recent jurisdiction to take this action was Canada's most populous province. Ontario amended its last in April to create a presumption that a PTSD diagnosis from a psychologists or psychiatrist is sufficient to establish a work comp claim.

Colorado considers changes

For the last two years, the Colorado legislature has been considered similar changes.

The scope of the problem that the legislature is responding to is undeniable. The number of first responders who are dealing with post-traumatic stress in Colorado is estimated to be more than 1,200. Last year alone, seven law enforcement officers who were battling PTSD demons committed suicide.

In 2015, a state representative from Longmont, Jonathan Singer, began pushing a bill to address the problem. After the bill ran into opposition from the insurance industry, it was turned into a legislatively-supported study.

The study confirmed that the problem of untreated PTSD among first responders is widespread. But this year, a bill to change how PTSD is handled under the work comp system failed again.

For the time being, the Colorado Peace Officers Foundation has stepped in to help fund treatment for first responders who suffer from PTSD. But the issue seems likely to arise again at the legislature next year.

Making the system work

If you are you a first responder who suffered job-related injuries, getting the workers' comp benefits you are eligible for is important. An experienced attorney can help you do it.

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