California's first responders seek compensation for mental trauma

Police officers, firefighters and other first responders are often confronted with terrifying situations and horrifying scenes involving injured people. Ultimately, exposure to that kind of trauma can have a negative psychological effect on first responders that leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental conditions like anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, the current workers' compensation system in California doesn't treat work-related psychiatric injuries the same as it does physical injuries. First responders can only get workers' compensation for their psychological damage if they require medical treatment or become disabled as a result. Even then, they face a significant legal hurdle: They have to prove their job was a "substantial cause" of their mental condition.

A new law -- Senate Bill 542 -- hopes to change that situation. Proposed by Senator Henry Stern, the bill is coming at a time when there's increasing reports of suicide among the nation's firefighters and police officers. Approximately 240 firefighters and police officers committed suicide in 2017 -- which is even more than those who were killed in the line of duty that year. Advocates say that's a clear sign that our nation's first responders are in crisis themselves.

If the bill is successful, it would put work-related mental trauma and injuries on par with a host of physical conditions that are presumed related to a first responder's job conditions -- like cancer, heart disease and tuberculosis.

In essence, S.B. 542 would shift the burden of proving a mental condition was related to the job away from the first responders. Instead, employers or insurers would have to prove that a first responder's mental condition wasn't related to their job in order to avoid providing benefits and compensation. While it remains to be seen if the bill will pass, it does have significant support behind it from advocacy groups.

If you're a first responder who is suffering from on-the-job injuries -- whether mental or physical -- protect your legal interests by getting experienced advice before you file your workers' compensation claim.

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