N.J. bill giving first responders workplace protection for PTSD advances

A2886 cleared the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee after advocates for the measure argued that it’s a matter of life and death for their coworkers

Matt Arco

TRENTON, N.J. — It’s time to end the stigma for mental illness.

That was the message proponents of a bill that would give workplace protections for police, firefighters, and other first responders who are diagnosed with work-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bill, A2886, cleared the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee by a bipartisan 7-0 vote after advocates for the measure argued it’s a matter of life and death for their coworkers.

“Everyone loved this kid,” Sean Simpkins of the Salem City Police Department said during the public hearing, describing the recent suicide of a 23-year-old officer.

Simpkins said the officer began acting differently prior to his death. He suspects he likely had been suffering from PTSD.

The officer was found by two colleagues who went to his house after he stopped showing up for work. He had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Simpkins said. Both of the officers who found him are leaving the department because they were so shaken y, he added.

“It’s OK to say ‘I need help,’” Sean Lavin, of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, said.

“Take the stigma away from mental health and help our members move forward,” he said. “The systemic problems with PTSD with our first responders don’t go away.”

Lavin described his own PTSD experience that was triggered by responding to Hurricane Sandy after the work he did years earlier helping during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The mere smell in the air after Sandy was triggering, he said.

“We have to make sure that we keep you guys healthy and give you guys the tools that you need,” Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro, D-Hudson. “We have to remember that you’re not robots, that you’re human beings (and) that you have families.”

The measure defines first responders as firefighters, a paid member a first aid, emergency, ambulance, or rescue squad association, and any federal, state, county, or municipal law enforcement agency.

[Read the New Jersey First Responders Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Protection Act]

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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