Rick Scott To Sign PTSD Coverage Bill In Tampa
Florida Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign a bill Tuesday to expand workers' compensation coverage for first responders.
Under current law, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs with post-traumatic stress disorder can get medical care paid for by their employers. Starting in October, they will also be eligible for lost wages if they become disabled from PTSD.
Geoff Bichler, an Orlando attorney representing first responders, said the bill is a recognition that PTSD is a work-related problem for people in uniform.
“The Legislature, by providing for this recognition now, is really forcing agencies to take the issue out of the shadows and deal with it fairly and in a realistic way,” Bichler said. "And one component of that is the fact that they now have to provide training. There's a mandatory training provision.
The push to cover PTSD started after multiple first responders to the Pulse nightclub shooting came forward. Local governments initially opposed the bill, saying it would be an unfunded mandate. But the opposition backed off after the Parkland shooting in south Florida left 17 dead.
But the question of whether a Parkland first responder would be covered under the law isn't precise.
The shooting itself, which left 17 people dead, definitely meets the law’s requirements as a triggering event that could cause PTSD. But a diagnosis of PTSD isn’t enough -- it has to be disabling. That means the responder would have to lose time off work, or be told by a psychiatrist that they can no longer work as a first responder.
"This is a fairly counter-intuitive thing for most people because they think, well, if you're diagnosed, isn't that sufficient?" Bichler said. "No, it's not for an occupational disease."
Another wrinkle: The bill doesn’t become effective until October 1, and gives first responders a one-year window to file a claim. That means a Parkland responder would have to be disabled from PTSD after October 1, but before the one year anniversary in February of next year.
“And if they haven’t established disability in that window, they’re probably out of luck,” Bichler said.
Are you a first responder with PTSD or stress-related symptoms you believe may be related to your work? Do you have a family member or close friend who is a first responder with PTSD or who has committed suicide? We want to hear from you.