Saturday, December 3, 2022

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ME Firefighters: Extend Law to Support First Responders with PTSD

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Wednesday, February 9, 2022   

A bill in the Maine Legislature would keep a law in place that makes it easier for first responders to get workers' compensation coverage for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The 2017 law will sunset in October unless this bill extends it.

Michael Crouse, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine, said public-safety and police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders experience traumatic events throughout their careers. He said this law shifts the burden of proof for workers' compensation to employers to show that someone's PTSD was not caused by work.

"If a firefighter falls off a truck and breaks a leg, workers comp covers it," he said. "Behavioral health disorders are no different. If a firefighter is depressed - anxiety, PTSD, PDSI - in all likelihood, the causations relate it to work. Why shouldn't that be covered by workers comp?"

Studies have shown police officers and firefighters are more likely to lose their lives to suicide than in the line of duty. Crouse said it's important to provide trainings on resiliency and handling traumatic events, as well as the appropriate resources for healing after trauma.

Crouse added that PTSD sometimes can be a reason for first responders to leave the profession. However, with early intervention and support, others may be able to return to work.

"The stigma of having a behavioral-health disorder is slowly going away in our industry," he said. "Our members are starting to recognize that it's not a bad thing to talk to somebody about issues and these traumatic calls, and it's not a bad thing to seek professional help."

The bill, LD 1879, passed out of the House Labor and Housing Committee this week, and heads to the full Legislature for a vote.

According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 30% of first responders develop such conditions as depression and PTSD, compared with about 20% of the general population.


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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that law enforcement officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty (elvis santana/Adobe Stock)

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