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Workers' Comp Designation for First Responder PTSD Proposed in Legislation

First Responders Suffering Post Traumatic Stress Would Have Access to Workers Compensation Benefits Under New House Bill

A bill passed by the North Carolina House of Representatives would make it easier for first responders to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder caused by work-related experiences.

The legislation, House Bill 492, provides that law enforcement officers, firefighters, 911 dispatchers, emergency medical technicians, and emergency management service personnel qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for psychological trauma under certain circumstances discussed below.

The attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks have seen the kind of psychological trauma that workers can suffer as a result of terrifying incidents and trauma on the job. Our attorneys help injured workers seek full workers’ compensation benefits. We support the expansion of PTSD benefits to first responders who put their lives on the line every day to protect us and make our communities safer.

How Does House Bill 492 Make it Easier for First Responders to Get Workers’ Comp for PTSD?

House Bill 492 would make PTSD a compensable occupational disease under North Carolina law if a first responder is diagnosed with the condition by a physician who established with reasonable certainty that the PTSD was caused by employment activities.

The bill received strong support in the state House and passed by a vote of 116-0. But it still has a long way to go to become law. Similar proposals that passed the House in the past have been blocked by the state Senate because of concern about increased workers’ compensation insurance costs for local governments.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities which represents local governments has opposed similar proposals that relied on the workers’ compensation system to pay for psychological treatment for first responders.

Workers’ compensation is employer-paid insurance coverage for occupational or job-related injuries. It pays all medical bills related to illness or injury suffered on the job, as well as a portion of an injured worker’s salary while the person is unable to work due to the injury or condition. A workers’ compensation settlement for permanent disability due to PTSD would provide long-term payments or, in some cases, a lump sum payment.

Under current law, mental injuries are only covered by workers’ compensation in North Carolina if the psychological condition is caused by a compensable physical injury. That can make it challenging for first responders to obtain workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD.

What is PTSD?

The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

The symptoms may include flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, uncontrollable thoughts about the event, and suicidal thoughts.

The Link Between PTSD and First Responders

PTSD symptoms can affect anyone who experiences a terrifying or traumatic event. But first responders are more likely to encounter these types of situations by the nature of their jobs and they suffer psychological injuries as a result.

Scott Mullins, head of the Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics of North Carolina, said the rates of PTSD and depression were nearly five times higher among firefighters, EMS personnel, and police officers than among the general population. Mullins urged North Carolina lawmakers to expand workers’ compensation benefits because of the psychological trauma that first responders face on the job.

State Rep. Donna White of Clayton, a sponsor of the legislation, told a legislative committee that firefighters, EMTs, 911 dispatchers, and other first responders are at increased risk of suicide. She said the terrible scenes that first responders witness day after day on the job take a toll and they deserve workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD.

Can I get Workers’ Compensation for PTSD if I’m a First Responder in North Carolina?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition often associated with military combat. Soldiers and other service members face traumatic events that involve the threat of death or serious injury. PTSD is known as an “invisible wound” because it is a psychological disorder.

While firefighters and other first responders may face life-threatening situations similar to what is experienced in combat, the N.C. Workers’ Compensation Commission has considerable latitude in determining whether an applicant has PTSD and whether it is connected to his or her job.

Currently, North Carolina workers’ compensation law requires three elements to prove that a psychological condition like PTSD qualifies as a work-related disease or disorder:

  • The condition must be characteristic of the type of employment;
  • Requirements of the job expose the worker to a greater risk of developing the condition or disease than that of a member of the general public;
  • There must be proof of a causal link between the job and the condition.

Firefighters and other emergency responders can sometimes satisfy these requirements with a medical diagnosis, an incident report, and evidence presented by an attorney experienced at handling workers’ compensation cases. But valid claims are often denied by workers’ compensation insurance administrators.

If the legislation in the N.C. General Assembly becomes law, it would codify the legislature’s intent that the state workers’ compensation program covers PTSD suffered by emergency responders.

Contact a North Carolina Lawyer to Claim PTSD Workers’ Compensation

Whether or not House Bill 492 becomes law this year, our attorneys are ready to fight for the rights of first responders and other injured workers who suffer from job-related PTSD to receive all the benefits available by law. Our board-certified workers’ compensation lawyers of Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., can help you evaluate the benefits you are entitled to claim if you have sustained an injury on the job. We only represent injured workers and never insurance companies.

If your claim for workers’ comp benefits related to occupational PTSD has been denied, you should not give up. In our experience, many denied workers’ comp claims can be overturned on appeal. We are ready to help you if we believe you have a viable claim. We will put our decades of experience handling workers’ compensation claims to work to help you. Contact us at once for a free legal consultation with an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. You will not owe any legal fee unless our attorneys are successful in securing a workers’ comp PTSD payout or settlement for you.

About the Author

David E. Vtipil
David Vtipil is an attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks and concentrates his law practice in injuries due to negligence and workers' comp. David E. Vtipil was selected by his peers for inclusion in the 21st Edition of The Best Lawyers in America in the field of Workers’ Compensation Law.

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