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State Senator

Cathy Osten

Representing Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich & Sprague

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Sen. Osten Supports PTSD Coverage for Police and Firefighters

After years of effort, legislature directs cities and towns to cover the effect of mental trauma on first responders

HARTFORD – After six years of effort, the state Senate finally took the first step today toward providing Connecticut’s police officers and firefighters with workers’ compensation coverage for the emotional and mental injuries they suffer on the job after witnessing some particularly horrible trauma.

Senate Bill 164, “An Act Including Certain Mental or Emotional Impairments Within the Definition of Personal Injury Under the Workers’ Compensation Statutes,” passed the Senate today on a unanimous and bipartisan 35-0 vote; it now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill expands the definition of ‘personal injury’ in state workers’ compensation laws to include so-called “mental-mental” injuries (a mental injury without an accompanying physical injury), as of July 1, 2019. The new provisions are expected to cover an estimated 36,000 state and local employees, including 26,800 firefighters, 8,180 police officers, 958 state police officers and 140 parole officers.

And, with a last-minute amendment, the bill also requires the Labor and Public Employees Committee to study the cost and impact of adding emergency medical services personnel and certain Department of Correction Employees to the list of potentially covered employees.

“I’ve been working on this issue for years, and I think we need to recognize that post-traumatic stress is an actual condition that can be treated, and when treated, allows that person can return to work. That’s what workers’ compensation is for,” Sen. Osten said. “There is a chance to save somebody’s life here. And I’m hoping that over time, the more data we collect, we’ll discover that the claims and the cost is not that great, and we’ll be able to open this law up to other classes of first responders, such as EMS and corrections officers.”

The bill language was written by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and police and firefighters union representatives after many months of negotiation and debate; CCM had opposed previous Post-Traumatic Stress bills due to the potential cost of paying for mental health care for emergency responders.

But recent Democrat-led significant reduction in workers’ comp costs for Connecticut cities and towns may have helped pave the way for today’s action.

Workers’ compensation laws typically cover medical expenses and allow an employee to collect a portion of their paycheck for a certain time period if they suffer a physical injury on the job – say, a gunshot, a burn, or a broken leg. But worker’s compensation laws rarely provide coverage for the emotional or mental injuries a police officer or firefighter may suffer after experiencing a particularly harrowing scene, such as a mass shooting or a car accident.

SB 164 allows workers’ compensation benefits to be paid to police, volunteer or full-time firefighters, and parole officers diagnosed with PTS and who experienced one of the six following events:

  • Witnessing the death of a person.
  • Witnessing an injury that causes the death of a person shortly thereafter.
  • Treating an injured person who dies shortly thereafter.
  • Carrying an injured person who dies shortly thereafter.
  • Viewing a deceased minor.
  • Witnessing an incident that causes a person to lose a body part, to suffer a loss of body function, or that results in permanent disfigurement.

Today’s PTS vote has been a half-decade in the making.

Just months after the December 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut Senate Democrats introduced Senate Bill 823, “An Act Concerning Severe Mental or Emotional Impairment and Workers’ Compensation Coverage,” which sought to expand workers’ compensation coverage to people suffering from post-traumatic stress as a direct result of witnessing the death or maiming of another person.

The bill received wide and strong support from various first responders at its February public hearing – just two months after Sandy Hook – but the bill was vehemently opposed by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) who complained that the measure would amount to “a new, unfunded mandate on cities and towns.”

As an alternative to the legislation, a private fund was announced to help pay for the counseling costs of affected first responders at Sandy Hook, but that fund raised less than $400,000.

Democrats continued to introduce various PTS measures over the years, all of which were opposed by business and municipal groups.

At the same time, however, Democrats also introduced and passed various new laws that substantially reduced workers’ compensation costs for Connecticut cities and towns. Just last fall, the Connecticut Insurance Department approved a nearly 17 percent decrease in rates for workers’ compensation insurance, marking the fifth consecutive year that rates have dropped in Connecticut – a nearly 50 percent drop in rates over the past five years.

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