Any worker who has endured a life-threatening workplace accident may have lingering anxiety, feelings of intense fear or helplessness, sleeplessness, disturbing memories or emotional numbness. Without realizing it, you may be experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is commonly associated with combat veterans, but any worker who has a life-threatening accident or witnesses a co-worker getting hurt or killed may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stress symptoms may be normal for a person who has recently experienced or witnessed a serious accident or car accident. But when the symptoms linger beyond 30 days, they can become a debilitating condition.
Highly Publicized Traumatic Events Bring Recognition of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a diagnosable medical condition and has begun to appear as a diagnosis in some cases of work-related injury in recent years. The effects of PTSD can be just as disabling as a physical injury and require ongoing medical treatment. Unfortunately, workers who have PTSD often have a more difficult time obtaining workers’ compensation benefits.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. About seven or eight out of every 100 people will experience PTSD in their lives, and more than 5 million adults have it in a given year, according to the National Center for PTSD.
Members of the armed services can receive benefits if a psychiatrist finds post-traumatic stress syndrome. The plight of some first responders affected by events such as the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. has prompted an effort in some states to expand workers’ comp benefits to civilian workers who have PTSD.
Police unions are currently advocating for police officers to be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits if they have a post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2013, the South Carolina Supreme Court rejected a sheriff’s deputy’s claims for workers’ compensation benefits based on PTSD related to the deputy fatally shooting a man during a domestic disturbance incident. The issue prompted the South Carolina legislature this year to reconsider providing benefits for law officers who experience stress after using deadly force.
Most states require police and firefighters to have an accompanying physical injury before they quality for benefits.
The workers’ compensation benefits available for work-related psychiatric issues vary from state to state.
Categorizing Workplace Injuries
In Georgia, for example, the workers’ compensation system classifies injuries into categories of mental and physical harm.
The categories include:
• Physical-mental— If you are injured in a workplace accident and experience post traumatic stress or become severely depressed
• Mental-physical—If you develop anxiety after seeing a traumatic accident at work and that anxiety makes you physically ill
• Mental-mental—A psychiatric injury caused by workplace harassment or verbal abuse is an example of this category of injury.
Workers who suffer physical injuries with accompanying work-related psychiatric problems are much more likely to receive workers’ compensation benefits than those who have only psychiatric harm. It’s difficult to obtain benefits without physical symptoms.
There is an evolving recognition nationally of the relationship between workplace injuries and psychiatric worker-related injuries such as PTSD. But these are challenging claims to pursue and it’s important for an injured worker diagnosed with PTSD to consult a workers’ compensation attorney who is knowledgeable about the options available.