Governor Ned Lamont, signed a bill into law that will provide workers’ compensation benefits to police officers, parole officers, and firefighters who have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after witnessing an unnerving event in the line of duty.
The bill is Public Act 19-17, An Act Concerning Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Certain Mental or Emotional Impairments, Mental Health Care for Police Officers and Wellness Training for Police Officers, Parole Officers and Firefighters.
This law recognizes that first responders in particular can be exposed to events on the job that can cause difficulty coping or adjusting for weeks and months at a time, sometimes leading to intense flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and depression.
Recent studies have shown that first responders, police in particular, are at a high risk of developing PTSD due to the nature of their jobs. This law will provide access to treatment for those affected.
At the Thursday press briefing Lt John Slusarz said officers go from one call to the next, to the next.
“God forbid there is a SIDS death or something traumatic. For a normal person to witness that, you experience a lot of emotions, but we’re expected to take charge and go to the next call, which can be something mundane and routine, or could be a fatal motor vehicle accident or house fire with fatalities, or domestic dispute,” he said. “All these feelings don’t have the opportunity to be processed.”
Slusarz said the EAP, or Employee Assistance Program, has been around for a while, but in the past decade first responders have also benefited from the addition of peer support groups and critical incident stress debriefings.
“And this new law will help even more because it’s another resource,” he said.
Chief Heavey said the bill does a number of positive things in its effort to address the effects of exposure to trauma to police and fire personnel.
“The bill addresses prevention though training which is another positive step,” Heavey said. “It is my hope that in the next legislative session that law makers strongly consider including emergency medical personnel, dispatchers and correction officers as they are often exposed to the same work place stress as police and fire personnel.”
While Public Act 19-17 is a step forward in recognizing and treating PTSD, early intervention is also important.
Police receive training in job related stress and how to cope with it, the adoption of post incident debriefing which is focused on the employee’s wellness, peer support groups where the members are experienced officers who have been specially trained in this area, and employee assistance programs which provides confidential referrals for employees.
Supervisors and management also play a key role in the early detection and prevention of stress related issues among employees. Policies, procedures, and direct contact with the people they supervise help identify and support affected employees.