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First-responders seek benefits coverage for PTSD

Workplace injuries may go beyond physical harm. Police and firefighters in California suffered psychological injuries after consecutive seasons of mass shootings and record-breaking fires.

Organizations representing these professions, accordingly, are seeking passage of a new law that would grant workers' compensation coverage for work-related psychological injuries.

If passed, Senate Bill 842 would make government agencies grant workers' compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress claims. Coverage would also apply retroactively to 2017 and 2018 which was the height of the wildfires in the state.

The California Professional Firefighters and Association of Highway Patrolmen support SB 842. The bill passed a committee vote.

Under current law, workers dealing with psychiatric injuries are eligible for workers' compensation only if the disorder requires medical treatment or causes a disability. They must also prove that their job experience was a substantial cause of their injury. Substantial cause is defined as 30 to 40 percent.

Under SB 542, however, local agencies would have the burden of proving that injuries are not job-related if they fight compensation. The bill's sponsor intends to treat mental illness the same as other physical ailments that are treated as resulting from the work performed by police and firefighters such as heart disease, cancer and tuberculosis. Workers' compensation pays for surgery, hospital and medical treatments and disability and death benefits for these injuries.

Over 240 firefighters and police officers committed suicide in 2017 which is a toll greater than the number who died in the line of duty, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation. Advocacy groups report that over 160 officers died in suicides in 2018 and that over 10 percent of 112 surveyed firefighters suffer from depression.

Injured workers should seek immediate legal assistance to determine whether they have a right to compensation. An attorney can help assure their rights are protected.

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