Ohio Workers Comp Budget Stuck on First Responders & PTSD

firefighter standing in front of flames

The Ohio legislature has been debating for months about providing workers compensation benefits for first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. But the issue finally seemed resolved early in June, when the State House of Representatives passed a budget allowing first responders affected by PTSD to receive medical care and wage replacement under workers comp rules. 

Then, just last week, the State Senate killed the provision along with a provision that injured workers declare their immigration status when filing a claim. House Speaker Larry  Householder immediately rejected the budget, which will now be debated in committee — again.

 “This is an issue in the state that’s been debated for a number of years. I don’t think there is any more debate to be had,” Householder said.

A Matter of Cost?

At  first glance, the question of whether or not to cover PTSD for first responders seems rather clear cut. PTSD is a medical condition, and the criteria for the diagnosis  were firmly established by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013. But Ohio and most other states have historically covered only physical injuries and illnesses under workers comp. So first responders whose job-related stressors lead to mental health issues don’t qualify. 

Groups who oppose the coverage expansion include the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, NFIB/Ohio, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and the Ohio Township Association. They believe that other workers with dangerous jobs may demand equal treatment, leading to abuse of  the system by those claiming on-the-job stress. “The potential inroads into the program are endless, said Rob Brundrett of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. In the end, he says, the result will be increased costs. (Ohio’s workers compensation claims are funded by employers.)

First responders, their families and the professional organizations that represent them say this is nonsense. There are certain situations that only first responders deal with on a regular basis, they claim. Children die in their arms, and they witness horrible carnage all the time.

“On my son’s … second-to-last run, a little girl died in my son’s arms, and he struggled very bad with that,” said Catherine Murphy Hardin in testimony before the House. Her son, Trevor Murphy, was a firefighter/paramedic in Delaware County who committed suicide in April at the age of 28.

William Quinn, the secretary-treasurer of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, also testified before the House, pointing out that PTSD can be the result of one or many traumatic events. He described being the first on the scene of a horrific murder in which a man slit his wife’s throat, raped and killed one of their daughters, and slit the throat of the other one. 

“It sticks with you. Sometimes it manifests itself through sleep disorders, anger, withdrawing from your family. A lot of times it goes to self-medication,” Quinn said. 

A National Debate

Still, Ohio isn’t the only jurisdiction struggling with the issue of whether to cover first responders’ PTSD. Last year, at least 16 states considered adding workers’ compensation coverage for first responders with PTSD along with coverage for certain “presumptive” cancers. But to date, only Florida and Washington have signed such coverage into law. 

Nonetheless, as the public consciousness of mental health disorders increases, cases involving workers in other industries filing for workers compensation due to job-related stress are on the rise. In California, for example, the state Commission on Health and Safety and Worker’s Compensation recently issued a briefing that says first responders and any other employee who suffers a stress-related condition caused by their work may be eligible for workers compensation. 

In Connecticut, the Supreme Court decided in favor of a FedEx driver who claimed he developed PTSD because of managerial pressure to meet impossible work demands. The worker also had a heart condition and high blood pressure, which were attributed to job stress. Both were covered by workers comp. 

And in Tennessee, the state Supreme Court ruled in Gerdau Ameristeel, Inc. v. Steven Ratliff, that a worker who witnessed the deaths of two co-workers in 2008 could obtain workers’ comp benefits, despite not filing a PTSD claim for almost a year. 

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