In 2019, California lawmakers passed SB 542, allowing firefighters and police officers to claim PTSD under workers’ compensation. In the 12 years leading up to the bill’s passage in 2019, statistics show that workers’ compensation claims for PTSD were more frequently denied than those coming from other professions where a worker might experience the after-effects of a traumatic event. Furthermore, claims filed for payments for PTSD by first responders were more likely denied than claims filed for other conditions.
The risk of first responders developing PTSD
A survey among first responders in California found that they did not suffer more debilitating mental health conditions than those in other fields, with some exceptions. Females involved in protective services suffered the highest rate of poor mental health. The survey also found the highest rates of mental distress and suicidal ideation among ambulance drivers, non-firefighter emergency medical technicians and security guards.
First responders may not seek PTSD treatment
First responders often feel that others who have not been on the front lines will not understand what they face regularly. Therefore, they are reluctant to seek treatment. Peer-support groups led by first responders may get them the help they need. Furthermore, first responders often must deal with cultural factors when seeking mental health help.
Other funding sources for PTSD treatment
Since workers’ compensation often denies payments for mental health care to deal with PTSD, some first responders turned to other funding sources. In most cases, they found that seeking payment under employer-sponsored healthcare plans led to those insurance companies turning the claim in for workers’ compensation, and the claim was denied. Very few first responders tried to get payment through employee assistance programs because there was no guarantee of confidentiality. Therefore, they usually paid for the treatment out of their bank accounts.
California SB 542 is set to expire at the end of 2024. First responders seeing trauma in the workplace need reliable coverage to help them cope with PTSD.