By Allison G. S. Knox
Columnist, EDM Digest

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been at the forefront of public policy discussions for the past number of years. Certainly, veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq opened the discussion with their need for mental health services.

But in the wake of numerous mass casualty incidents it has become apparent that other public safety professionals are also in need of appropriate mental health services. They include law enforcement officers, dispatchers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics.

Public Safety Professionals Can Suffer from PTSD after Witnessing Horrific Events                       

Many public safety professionals suffer from PTSD after witnessing horrifying events while responding to 911 emergencies. However, mental health services to treat PTSD have not been widely available to public safety professionals due to budgetary and policy reasons. That makes it particularly difficult for these professionals to get the care they need, particularly after a traumatizing call.

That said, the momentum for mental health services for public safety professionals is changing throughout the United States. For instance, the Idaho legislature just passed a bill to expand mental health services to public safety professionals.

Ohio’s Legislation

Ohio recently proposed legislation that would allow emergency workers to claim workers compensation due to trauma they experienced on the job. The perspective of this legislation is rather interesting. Just as the article suggests, workers compensation refers to compensation for an employee that was injured on the job.

But first responders in Ohio are unable to file for workers’ compensation unless they were physically injured. PTSD is an injury that among many other things affects a person’s ability to work and to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Undoubtedly there are problems with how emerging legislation views this important issue.  Nevertheless, PTSD legislation is gaining momentum and creating change nationally in the public safety field giving public safety professionals an opportunity to receive the care they need.

Newtown Board Makes Cash Award Resulting from Sandy Hook Shootings

A few years after the mass casualty incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a police officer who responded to the incident claimed that he could not work because of what he had witnessed. He said he was suffering from PTSD. The Hartford Courant reported that a state board ruled that Newtown must pay the officer long-term disability totaling a little more than $380,000.

While the ruling is not all-encompassing, it is a step in the right direction when it comes to expanding mental health services. As many in the public safety profession say, it isn’t if someone will experience a traumatic event on the job – it’s only a question of when.

For years, there have been numerous arguments to make sure that Emergency Medical Services and other public safety professionals have access to mental health care. While coverage still needs to be expanded throughout the country, these pieces of legislation are a great start to policy change.