Ohio lawmakers who voted 'no' on PTSD bill to introduce counter bill
The alternative bill would fund workers' compensation for first responders with PTSD through a different department
Michael D. Pitman
Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio House last week passed a bill designed to provide help to first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because of an incident and was not physically injured. Law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel could file a workers’ compensation claim for a diagnosed PTSD that doesn’t accompany a physical injury, if House Bill 308 passes the Senate and is signed by Gov. Mike DeWine.
State law currently states any PTSD claim must be accompanied by a physical injury.
Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., was one of the no votes on the bill (it passed 74-22). He said it would have received unanimous support if it wouldn’t cost the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation an additional $44 million.
That’s why Lang and Ohio Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, who also voted against the bill, will introduce a counter bill that “will do everything (House Bill 308) does” but funds it either through the Ohio Department of Public Safety or the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Lang said.
He called funding the bill through BWC a “slippery slope” because it offered unlimited benefits.
“We’ve all got to take care of our heroes,” Lang told the Journal-News.
He said his no vote was a “tough call” as it was “very emotional to listen to people that you know deserve post-traumatic stress disorder benefits.”
“To hear them stand up, to hear their loved-ones stand up and talk about their suicide, it really tugs at your heart-strings and your emotions,” he said.
Fairfield police Chief Steve Maynard said PTSD is a reality first responders must face because they “see some horrific things, and sadly on a regular basis.”
“Just because you don’t have some type of physical injury does not mean you’re not suffering from post-traumatic stress from the things that you’re involved with,” Maynard said. “I think this is a move in the right direction.”
Middletown Division of Fire Chief Paul Lolli said the legislation is “about 100 years overdue.” He said he sees no difference between an ankle, back or shoulder injury and a PTSD injury.
“I have witnessed firsthand how many things our personnel see and deal with on a daily basis that have a negative impact on one’s mental well-being,” he said.
Lang’s no vote is a departure from his usual alignment with Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton. Carruthers supported the bill for one reason: Patrick Wolterman, the Hamilton firefighter who died on Dec. 28, 2015, in the line of duty.
Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, said she was “shocked” by Lang’s vote.
“How can anyone work against those who fight to protect us?” she said.
The bill was pushed by Ohio Rep. Thomas Patton, R-Strongsville, who has championed the effort for the past nine years, starting when he was an Ohio senator.
Saying a first responder is five times more likely to commit suicide than an average citizen, he told Ohio House members before the Feb. 12 vote, “This is a bill you (support) today, you actually can say, ‘I am saving lives.’”
The PTSD bill has several opponents, including the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Ohio Township Association and the Ohio Manufacturer’s Association. All opponents are either public or private sector employers that voiced their opposition during the House Insurance Committee hearings.
“(First responders) are not alone in their willingness to undertake dangerous and essential jobs,” said Rob Brundrett, OMA’s Public Policy Services director, in a House Insurance Committee hearing.
“If we erode the physical injury requirement for peace officers, firefighters, and emergency medical workers, it may be difficult to justify not doing the same for other professionals who seek equal treatment.”
Kevin Shimp, Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s Labor and Legal Affairs director, said the bill “upends over 100 years of workers’ compensation law.”
Hamilton Fire Cheif Mark Mercer said this bill, just like any other bill, will go through changes as it travels the Ohio Senate.
“I certainly see some merit in it,” he said. “The police and fire (personnel), they see and experience a lot of things.”
Mercer said he would like to know more about how the bill impacts the pension system and what happens if large amounts are paid out with PTSD claims.
“It’s something you don’t know how much will actually be used,” he said.
Maynard also has questions about how this bill would impact the state pension. The bill only specifies a BWC claimant is prohibited from receiving compensation or benefits while receiving a disability benefit from a state retirement system.
“On its face, I still have questions on how they plan on rolling it out and who will qualify and how they’re going to determine what qualifies as a post-traumatic stress injury,” he said.
The bill was a provision in BWC’s biennium budget passed by the Ohio House, but the Ohio Senate removed that provision. House Democrats called last week’s vote “a step in the right direction.”
“Ohio is stronger when we stand with working people, especially our first responders who sacrifice so much to serve our communities,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron. “Part of Ohio’s fundamental promise is that everyone should be able to live, work and retire here with safety and security.”
Staff Writer Mike Rutledge contributed to this story.
©2020 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)