A group of bipartisan legislators in the South Carolina senate have introduced a bill that would allow some emergency responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
The condition is a psychiatric disorder that is often associated with military combat, and it typically occurs following experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events. It’s marked by biological changes in the brain, as well as psychological symptoms that can impair a person’s ability to function.
S. 429 introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly would allow first responders to receive compensation for mental injury or mental illness medically diagnosed as PTSD, assuming it arises from that worker’s direct involvement in a traumatic experience or situation at work. The bill specifically says benefits could be granted without regard for whether the experience or situation was “extraordinary or unusual” in comparison to what is deemed the “normal working conditions” of a first responder.
The bill is being championed by Deputy Sheriff Michael Ackerman, who was shot in the line of duty while working for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. The incident happened last year when he and his partner were following up about a call of a man who was playing music too loudly and knocking on doors. They knocked. From inside the residence, shots were fired, piercing through the door.
One struck his partner in the chest. Ackerman was shot in the leg. His partner died soon thereafter. Ackerman shot and killed the suspect.
Ackerman has returned to light duty, but says he continues to require psychological help. He says he has been working through being in a “very dark place mentally and emotionally.” He cries daily. The constant pain in his leg reminds him of that day and how he watched his partner die.
When he sought help from a doctor who specialized in first responder trauma, he learned the appointment wouldn’t be covered. The case managers weren’t even sure how to get mental health appointments for first responders because the requests were so infrequent. He did eventually get coverage of his PTSD treatments, but he had to hire a workers’ compensation lawyer and it was an extensive fight.
He followed the chain of command with his requests, all the way to the governor. He was told in order to make workers’ compensation for PTSD sufferers more available, the law would have to be changed. That’s when he contacted Sen. Paul Thurmond (R-Charleston), and that was the beginning of S. 429.
It passed the subcommittee with a 509 vote, but it has yet to be debated on the full Senate floor because of fierce opposition from the Association of Municipalities and Counties.
Essentially what the law says right now is that if you develop PTSD as a result of a work-related physical injury, you can collect workers’ compensation. But even then, as in Ackerman’s case, you would likely have to fight for it. However, if you suffer PTSD and you were not physically injured (for example, if Ackerman hadn’t himself happened to have been shot in the leg), workers’ compensation will not cover your treatment.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
SC bill aims to cover PTSD under workers’ compensation, Jan. 12, 2016, By Ann Marie Farina, PoliceOne.com
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