Last updated Feb. 27, 2018.
Las Vegas. The Pulse Nightclub. Sandy Hook. Horrific, violent events such as these are difficult for anyone to process. Friends of the victims, family members — even strangers across the world — mourn for the dead and care for the injured victims.
But responding to a crime scene such as this also takes a toll on the police officers, paramedics, and others who tended to the victims.
One year after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, for example, one man who was on the scene says he wishes he’d never become a police officer. Gerry Realin, at age 37, spiraled into depression and stopped working after the shooting. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
“…there’s the moments you can’t control,” he says. “The images or flashbacks or nightmares you don’t even know about, and your wife tells you the next day you were screaming or twitching all night.”
Of course, PTSD doesn’t just affect victims of tragedies or their first responders in other states. Here at home in Ohio, how do we help our emergency personnel who suffer from PTSD?
What is PTSD?
First, it’s helpful to understand what exactly PTSD is and how it may originate. PTSD is a reaction to traumatic stress after mass violence, terror, or disaster. It could occur after a bad car accident, or being a witness to or victim of sexual assault.
While most people recover from “moderate stress reactions” within six to 16 months, those who continue to experience the following symptoms after several months may have PTSD:
- Emotional effects, such as shock, terror, irritability, anger, guilt, grief, sadness, helplessness, and difficulty experiencing happiness or loving feelings;
- Cognitive effects, such as impaired concentration and ability to make decisions, disbelief, confusion, nightmares, decreased self-esteem, worry, and dissociation;
- Physical effects, such as fatigue, exhaustion, insomnia, cardiovascular strain, reduced immune response, headaches, gastrointestinal upset, and decreased appetite;
- Interpersonal effects, such as increased relational conflict, social withdrawal, alienation, impaired work performance, distrust, feelings of abandonment or rejection, and externalization of blame.
With symptoms such as these, it’s clear how PTSD could affect us both personally and on the job. When we are unable to perform our best, we may need to take sick days and miss out on work. Time off can add up and hurt us even more if we’ve used up all our paid time off and can’t recover our wages through a workers’ compensation claim.
PTSD in First Responders Statistics
These statistics illustrate how this may relate to first responders and others struggling with PTSD at work:
- An estimated 28% of mass shooting survivors will develop PTSD;
- Between 7-19% of police officers develop PTSD;
- Police officers are twice as likely to die from suicide, which may be PTSD-related, than they are from traffic accidents or felony assaults.
Ohio Law: PTSD and Workers’ Compensation Claims
Advocates in Ohio have long fought for the rights of its first responders, but it has struggled with covering PTSD fully under workers’ compensation law. Up until recently, any injured worker in Ohio could file for PTSD as long as there was a physical injury. However, the Supreme Court extremely limited the ability to cover PTSD a few years ago in its decision favoring employers, Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co., 136 Ohio St.3d 58, 2013-Ohio-2237. Since then, advocates have tried to get PTSD coverage back, starting with first responders.
According to Ohio Revised Code 4123.01(C)(1), injuries as defined under workers’ compensation law are limited. This section of law pertains to PTSD specifically:
“‘Injury’ includes any injury, whether caused by external accidental means or accidental in character and result, received in the course of, and arising out of, the injured employee’s employment. “Injury” does not include: (1) Psychiatric conditions except where the claimant’s psychiatric conditions have arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by that claimant or where the claimant’s psychiatric conditions have arisen from sexual conduct in which the claimant was forced by threat of physical harm to engage or participate.”
Police in Ohio have been lobbying for years to recognize PTSD as a workers’ compensation issue, but nothing has cleared legislative hurdles to date. Senate Bill 5 was introduced in 2015 to mandate workers’ compensation coverage for rescue workers who experience PTSD regardless of physical injury, but it stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.
The Ohio BWC estimated the legislation would cost employers $182 million per year, using the national average of 18% of first responders filing annually for workers’ compensation benefits. That number, however, is a clear cry for the help that these people need.
PTSD Legislation in Other States
Gerry Realin, the police officer with PTSD from the Pulse Nightclub shooting, is one of just a few people who have been fighting for PTSD coverage along with their family members through workers’ compensation benefits in Florida. Right now, workers suffering from PTSD in Florida without a physical injury can get medical benefits, but aren’t eligible for lost wages if they become disabled.
Senate Bill 126, filed for the 2018 Florida legislative session, would allow first responders to be eligible for recovering lost wages if they suffer from PTSD without accompanying physical injury. Another bill making its way through the Florida legislature would also extend benefits to first responders, however it is limiting in that it would require they seek treatment within 15 days of an incident. PTSD isn’t always apparent that quickly after an incident, supporters argue, and the symptoms of PTSD are well-documented to last at least several months.
Similar to Ohio, this is the second time a PTSD bill has gone before the Florida legislature. We hope this time it passes.
We Support First Responders in Ohio
First responders fight to protect us every day. Why shouldn’t we protect them?
The workers’ compensation attorneys of Plevin & Gallucci strongly support any positive change to laws in Ohio, and for first responders across the country, that would allow these brave men and women to recover from their injuries and properly seek treatment. First responders shouldn’t have to lose out on compensation because of post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other injury.
The Ohio Legislature needs to stop turning its back on mental health and help workers who are injured. We should recognize PTSD claims for first responders and correct Armstrong. PTSD claims for first responders is a first step of many that will start to acknowledge the severity of injury for PTSD victims.
At Plevin & Gallucci, we have been fighting for the rights of injured workers for more than 40 years. Let our experienced attorneys help you determine your rights. If you have been injured on the job, contact us today for a free consultation.