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First responders seek workers' compensation for PTSD

When a California worker seeks workers' compensation benefits, there is often a misplaced belief that it can only be granted when there is a physical injury or an occupational disease. However, workers can get workers' compensation benefits for psychiatric issues too. Currently, the worker can only be approved for workers' compensation if the disorder results in disability or the person needs medical treatment for it. It is also necessary to prove that the experience on the job that sparked it were a substantial cause. By substantial cause, they mean 35 to 40%. With the continual struggles first responders are experiencing and the number of catastrophic incidents that are happening, a proposed new law is seeking to expand coverage.

With fires in the state breaking records and mass shootings that have been happening, first responders in law enforcement and firefighters are increasingly suffering from the emotional aftereffects of their experiences. Post-traumatic stress disorder is causing them problems as they try to focus on their jobs and are unable to do so. Some workers would prefer to take time off - with the benefits they get from workers' compensation - than leave their vocation entirely. With the proposed new law, that will be possible. The law would give workers' compensation for PTSD.

There is a dichotomy between physical injuries and emotional injuries. Many physical issues are labeled as "presumptive." This includes cancer, heart disease and other conditions. Workers' compensation covers these workers for their medical care, some disability and death benefits. The new law, if passed, would treat mental health similarly to physical injuries. This law was sparked by the number of firefighters and law enforcement officers who, in 2017, committed suicide. The total surpassed the number of people who were killed in the line of duty. In 2018, there were 160 officers who killed themselves. Of 112 firefighters who took part in a survey, more than 10% were depressed.

Should the law pass, it will be retroactive to 2017 and 2018 when there were major wildfires in the state. For first responders like firefighters and police officers, the dangers of the job and what they often see can cause them to suffer from PTSD. Currently, getting workers' compensation benefits for emotional trauma and PTSD has certain requirements. If the new law is passed, that will change. As the issue is debated, those who are suffering from PTSD because of their work might benefit from having legal help to try and get workers' compensation benefits. A law firm that represents those with their workers' compensation claims can be called for assistance.

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  • San Jose: 408-624-8420
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