Ohio businesses oppose workers' comp PTSD coverage for first responders
First responders say that requiring a physical injury is inconsistent with the definition of PTSD, which says a physical injury is not needed for a diagnosis
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio first responders are once again butting heads with the business community over workers' compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder.
A fight that has repeatedly arisen over recent years is again heating up, after House lawmakers added a provision to the Bureau of Workers' Compensation budget allowing police, firefighters and emergency medical workers to file claims without a correlating physical injury.
First responders say that requiring a physical injury, as under current law, is inconsistent with the definition of PTSD, which says a physical injury is not among the criteria for a diagnosis.
Catherine Murphy Hardin gave emotional testimony Tuesday as she talked about her son, Trever Murphy, an Orange Township firefighter/paramedic in Delaware County who committed suicide in April at age 28.
"On my son's last two runs, the second-to-last run, a little girl died in my son's arms, and he struggled very bad with that," she said. His last run was a fatal car accident.
"When he was able to finally release this gentlemen from his seat belt, he fell dead in his arms, and that devastated my son. It completely broke him," Murphy Hardin said.
PTSD can be triggered by a single event, or the culmination of multiple experiences, such as fatal house fires or car accidents, William Quinn, secretary-treasurer of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, told a House committee.
Quinn, a retired Hamilton firefighter, described being first on the scene where a man slit his wife's throat, stabbed one daughter and raped the other, also slitting her throat.
"It sticks with you. Sometimes it manifests itself through sleep disorders, anger, withdrawing from your family. A lot of times it goes to self-medication," Quinn said. "The singular ones are easy to identify and understand. The cumulative are a little more wicked."
But business groups including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, NFIB/Ohio and Ohio Manufacturers' Association oppose the provision, as does the Ohio Township Association.
Rob Brundrett of the manufacturers said emergency responders are not the only ones who undertake dangerous jobs, and "it may be difficult to justify not doing the same for other professionals who seek equal treatment."
Once a physical injury is no longer required, "the potential inroads into the program are endless," Brundrett said, citing increased costs.
But Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, said that unlike other professions, the purpose for first responders is to go into dangerous situations.
"I'm still confused as to how we can't agree there's an exception for those certain jobs," he said.
Charlie Smith of NFIB/Ohio replied that there may be reason for a special circumstance, but it should be debated separately from the workers' compensation budget. Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-Canton, chairman of the House Finance Committee countered that the issue has been debated around the Statehouse for more than six years.
The full House is taking up the bill Wednesday, and if approved it moves to the Senate.
"I don't think anybody contests that PTSD is real," Quinn said. "Without the ability to get off work, receive care and come back to work ... you have first responders whose heads aren't always in the game."
©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)