Calif. first responders with PTSD seek workers’ comp for mental trauma

A new bill would shift the burden of proof away from first responders and place it on the agencies to disprove mental trauma on the job

By FireRescue1 Staff

SACRAMENTO — First responders are backing a California Senate bill that would allow compensation for mental injuries sustained during their career.

The Tribune in San Luis Obispo reported that Senate Bill 542, sponsored by the California Professional Firefighters and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, would force agencies to acknowledge and cover worker’s comp claims for post-traumatic stress.

The bill would shift the burden of proof from first responders to the government agencies, requiring departments to provide proof that mental health injuries claimed are not job related.

In 2017, more than 240 firefighters and police officers died by suicide, a larger amount than those that died while on the job, according to the Tribune. 

“Bottling that up leads to scars that cannot be taken away,” said a firefighter said at a California State Senate Committee hearing. “You can’t describe the pure guttural cry of a father that just lost his son. That just lives with you and you can’t unhear it.”

Despite the emotional plea of first responders, there are still skeptics of the bill, including the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, and the Rural County Representation of California.

“Not only is there lack of evidence that a presumption is needed, but there is also a lack of information about the cost associated with the changes,” noted the California Coalition on Workers Compensation wrote in a letter. “We believe the current workers’ compensation system strikes the appropriate balance with respect to psychiatric injuries.”

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