It took years of work, but with the signing of H.B. 17-1229 last month, first responders and other workers in Colorado can now get workers’ compensation benefits for job-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Colorado thus joins a small number of states that recognize PTSD as a compensable work illness.
The problem with PTSD and other mental illnesses
Why has it been difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for mental illnesses such as PTSD? There are several reasons why this has been so. When a worker suffers a physical injury on the job, there is tangible proof of the injury. Most physical injuries can also be traced to a certain event such as a fall. But with PTSD, there is no physical proof of the injury, even though it often results from a specific, violent event. Then too, violence and the threat of violence were considered just part of a first responder’s job. In addition, prior to the enactment of H.B. 17-1229, PTSD was not clearly defined by Colorado law. And there were concerns that if proposed legislation concerning PTSD was not carefully defined, nearly every police officer could qualify for work comp benefits.
But violent and traumatic events do have a real effect on the mental health of first responders. An estimated 1,200 first responders in Colorado are believed to be suffering from work-related PTSD, and in 2015 seven law enforcement officers committed suicide.
How can workers qualify for PTSD work comp benefits?
Legislators have taken care to carefully define the circumstances under which first responders and other workers can obtain workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD. The law states that in order for a worker to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist must diagnose the worker with PTSD after one or more of these specific events:
- The worker is threatened with or is the subject of attempted serious bodily injury or death.
- The worker visually witnesses one or more violent deaths or the immediate aftermath of one or more violent deaths.
- The worker visually witnesses one or more serious bodily injuries caused by an accident or intentional act.
We wrote about PTSD as it affects first responders in these previous blog posts:
If you or a loved one has work-related PTSD, you may have questions about your rights under the new law. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can review your situation and advise you of your legal options.