Legislation Seeks to Add Mental Health To State Workers' Comp

Eighty percent of Connecticut firefighters have had stressful experiences on duty causing lingering or unresolved emotional health issues, according to an exclusive NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigation. Eighty percent also said there's a stigma about getting help, but one state senator has a plan to make it easier.

State Senator Cathy Osten wants to change that by making PTSD and other job-related mental health problems covered under workers’ compensation.

“This is not something that is just a piece of feel good legislation,” Osten said. “This is identified, diagnosed, provided correct treatment, so we can get people back on the job."

After Colchester firefighter David Barnes witnessed a horrific fire scene, he struggled with mental health issues that took a toll on his wellbeing. While he found a therapist for help, he knows not all his fellow firefighters are that lucky.

“Calling and finding the help, and the chiefs being able to get me there, was one of the best moves I've ever made," Barnes said.

Osten said her bill narrowly defines PTSD sufferers who would qualify for workers' comp coverage of medical expenses and lost wages, and she believes that will keep the costs down. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, however, said it cannot determine the total cost of introducing this coverage in Connecticut.

Kevin Maloney with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) represents towns and cities whose workers comp insurance would have to provide PTSD coverage if the bill becomes law. He said CCM has concerns that introducing this PTSD coverage would increase claims and premiums for Connecticut towns and cities, dozens of which are self-insured.

“There has to be a way to work out a middle ground. One way could be to establish a state fund to pay for what most people would see as really extraordinary high benefits beyond what is currently available," Maloney said.

Opponents of the bill also argue there could be huge legal costs if disputes arise over coverage that gets denied.

The independent, non-profit Workers Compensation Research Institute recently said 33 states provide workers’ comp coverage for this type of post-traumatic stress. The state of Florida just joined the list last week, making the number 34.

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