PTSD Coverage for First Responders in Florida
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In the wake of the Pulse tragedy the case of Officer Gerry Realin, exposed the harsh reality that Florida workers' compensation law does not recognize post traumatic stress disorder as a work injury for First Responders. Over the last year media reports have highlighted the need to change this law to benefit First Responders and the communities they serve. In response several Florida legislators have taken action, but there are serious concerns that proposed legislation may not go far enough in protecting these brave men and women in uniform. However a bill filed by Senator Torres, SB 126 , provides broad coverage with a more favorable burden of proof. Florida must pass the most favorable and broadest protections for First Responders suffering from PTSD, and the time to act is now.
Explanation of potential issues related to HB 227 (Willhite) and (BOOK) SB159
1. The Willhite / Book bill unnecessarily opens Chapter 440 (The Workers’ Compensation Act) making it more likely to generate opposition/attract attention of insurance industry.
2.The Willhite / Book bill unnecessarily complicates the analysis of PTSD claims through the prism of the Workers’ Compensation Act and it’s procedures.
3.The Willhite / Book bill provides limits coverage to witnesses of murder, suicide, fatal injury, child death or arrival on a scene of a mass casualty. This language is restrictive in that it could be read to require the first responder to actually witness the murder, suicide, fatal injury or child death and not the aftermath of such a scene.
4.The Willhite / Book bill requires treatment for PTSD to commence within 15 days of witnessing murder, suicide, fatal injury, or child death/arrival on mass casualty scene. This language is far too restrictive since ptsd remains latent in many individuals for extended periods of time (sometimes years).
5. The Willhite / Book bill requires that PTSD be demonstrated by “clear and convincing evidence” which is the highest possible burden of proof in a civil context. One doctor disagreeing with a diagnosis of PTSD could likely be fatal to any claim for coverage.
The Torres Bill conversely: SB126
1. Does not open the Workers’ Compensation Act and simply amends F.S. 112.1815 which already provides medical care for psychiatric injuries without a physical injury.
2. Does not limit coverage to “witnessing” murder, suicide, etc.
3.Does not require care to begin immediately following the witnessing of a traumatic event thus providing more realistic understanding of the nature of PTSD.
4. Does not require “clear and convincing evidence” and allows for conflicting evidence to be considered by a judge under a “preponderance of evidence” standard. It is important to understand that any conflicting evidence offered by an employer could be fatal to a first responder claim for PTSD under the clear and convincing standard.
We the undersigned support the broadest possible legal protections for Florida First Responders suffering from PTSD and we support the passage of Senate Bill # 126, as filed by Senator Torres.
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