Ohio House passes bill expanding first responders workers' compensation for PTSD

The legislation would allow first responders to seek workers' compensation even if they don't have a physical condition that led to PTSD

Cole Behrens
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Law enforcement officials, firefighters and other emergency personnel wiped tears from their eyes on Wednesday as the Ohio House passed a bill to provide workers' compensation for more first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

House members voted 74-22 on House Bill 308, which would allow first responders to seek workers' compensation even if they don't have a physical condition that led to PTSD. The Bureau of Worker's Compensation covers only physical injuries and mental conditions caused by physical injuries.

Those who suffer from PTSD have difficulty recovering from experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms may include nightmares, anxiety, or depressed mood. It may also lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

"Post-traumatic stress is a mental injury for which an accompanying physical injury is not required," said Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysbrug. "And arguing otherwise is an affront to the countless number of men and women who struggle on a daily basis with the demons and tragedies, the death and destruction they have responded to and witnessed over their careers.

Representatives including Rep. Thomas Patton, R-Strongsville, dismissed potential criticism that the bill would create a slippery slope of exceptions to worker's compensation guidelines.

"Let me tell you this: it took us nine years to get the state to recognize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a reality," said Patton, who sponsored the bill. "Whatever other groups want to come after us and play the 'me too' card, good luck."

In the first year alone, the change is expected to increase claims and costs by about $44 million, with potential increases in premiums paid by public employers, according to the Legislative Service Commission.

The Fraternal Order of Police said the bill "moves the issue forward and provides important support for first responders."

Katherine Murphy-Hardin said her son, Trever Murphy, died by suicide about a year ago after experiencing two traumatic events. Murphy was an Orange Township firefighter.

"He wasn't just my son, he was my best friend," Murphy-Hardin said through tears.

Murphy had wanted to be a firefighter since he was 3 years old, Murphy-Hardin said. But after holding an emergency victim as they died in his arms twice, Murphy-Hardin said she believes her son developed PTSD.

She said those events changed her son's demeanor and personality.

After believing he had failed a mental screen prescribed by the fire department to assess his mental health, Murphy killed himself that night. Murphy-Hardin said she found out the next day that he had passed the screen and was scheduled to work.

"Had that bill been passed, he could've taken that time off to get well, he wouldn't have had to worry," Murphy-Hardin said. "And I want (the legislators) to understand this is the reality of what it could have changed."

The bill is now scheduled to go to the Senate for consideration.

Senate President Larry Obhoff, a Medina Republican, said he supports the legislation and that "we will have a full and fair process over here."

For help, reach Ohio's 24/7 Crisis Text Line by texting 4HOPE to 741741, or call the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-221-5445; the Teen Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-294-3300; or the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255/TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers).


©2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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