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The definition of “first responder” matters when it comes to PTSD

On Behalf of | Feb 7, 2023 | Workers' Compensation |

If you‘re a first responder or someone close to you is, you know the emotional toll it can take. It’s probably not surprising to learn that it’s been found that one in three first responders develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to one in five people overall. 

Thanks to greater awareness of this issue, state lawmakers across the country have been taking steps to increase access to benefits for those with PTSD. For example, a presumption that when a first responder has PTSD that the condition is job-related can make it easier and faster to obtain workers’ comp benefits

Some states are also working to expand benefits for mental health issues beyond PTSD. Others want to expand the definition of “first responder” beyond that of people who actually show up at the scene of a crime or accident to include people like video technicians who have to review police body camera video as well as search and rescue divers and other personnel.

What’s happening with California law?

Here in California, state lawmakers tried last year to expand the PTSD presumption law (set to expire in 2025) beyond firefighters and peace officers to include other emergency personnel such as dispatchers. Gov. Gavin Newsom, however, declined to sign the legislation into law. 

The governor said that not enough research has been done on those currently covered under the law to justify “expanding coverage of the PTSD injury presumption to significant classes of employees….” He asserted that it could set a “dangerous precedent that has the potential to destabilize the workers’ compensation system going forward….”

Just because someone’s job may not allow a “rebuttable presumption” that their PTSD is job-related (and that an employer has to try to prove otherwise if they dispute to the claim), that certainly doesn’t mean that they can’t get workers’ comp benefits for work-related PTSD. Mental health injuries, however, are always harder to document than physical injuries. Having experienced legal guidance can help improve your chances of success.

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