Firefighters, police officers and other first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder will qualify for a full array of workers’ compensation insurance benefits effective Oct. 1, under a bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday.
Joined by state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Pam Bondi and legislative leaders, Scott signed the measure (SB 376) during an appearance at the Tampa Firefighters Museum.
“From day one, this has been a life or death issue,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. “Our first responders are attempting suicide at a rate that is exponentially higher than the general population. We know that with the right treatment our first responders who suffer from PTSD can get the help they need.”
In Florida, injured workers are prevented from receiving workers’ compensation benefits —- either medical benefits or lost wages —- for mental or nervous injuries not accompanied by physical injuries. The Legislature changed the law in 2007, though, to allow first responders to obtain medical benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder without accompanying physical injuries.
However, they still were precluded from obtaining lost wages for post-traumatic stress disorder. Under the new law, first responders who have witnessed the death of a minor or witnessed a death that involved “grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience” can file workers’ compensation claims for lost wages.
Generally, injured workers who are out of work for more than one week can file for lost-wage benefits, which cover 66 percent of weekly wages. Those who can return to work but cannot perform their old jobs, can qualify for a lost-wage benefit that pays 80 percent of the difference between what they previously earned and what they earn in their new positions.
Those who can never return to work may qualify for permanent total disability, which pays nearly 67 percent of their average weekly wage. Under the new law, first responders are required to show by clear and convincing evidence that the events were the source of the PTSD.
According to a 2015 article published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 6.6 percent of 4,000 first responders surveyed had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the rate in the general population.
The new law is expected to increase workers’ compensation costs for cities and counties that employ first responders by upward of $7 million, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance.