Research shows that rescue workers experience a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This may be due to the severity and frequency of traumatic events they are exposed to in their jobs.
A rescue worker suffering from PTSD may be in dire need of treatment and unable to do his or her job. However, in many states such as Florida, workers’ compensation benefits are not available to a rescue worker whose PTSD is not primarily connected to a physical injury.
Given the more we know today about PTSD, including the fact that workers such as police, firefighters and emergency medical responders face a high risk of developing the condition, should we revisit this approach to providing workers’ compensation benefits?
Study Finds High Rate of PTSD among Rescue Workers
Rescue workers are the first ones to respond to car accidents, fires and natural disasters. They may witness horrific scenes in which people have experienced severe and fatal injuries. In many cases, they may try to render emergency medical help to victims who ultimately do not survive, leaving the worker to grapple with a sense of guilt and anxiety.
As a result, the rescue worker may develop symptoms consistent with PTSD, including flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and depression. In addition to being unable to do his or her job, the rescue worker may develop PTSD-related problems such as substance abuse and marital difficulties. In the most extreme cases, the worker may become suicidal.
Unfortunately, the risk of developing this condition is significantly higher among rescue workers than what you find in the general population, according to a study published by Brazilian researchers in the June 2012 edition of the journal, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
In the study, researchers analyzed the results of 28 other studies that involved a total of 20,424 rescue workers from 14 countries, including the U.S. Based on that review, the study concluded that 10 percent of rescue workers suffer from PTSD. The rate was found to be especially high among ambulance workers.
In contrast, the PTSD rate among the general population was between 1.3 and 3.5 percent. The PTSD rate among rescue workers actually was similar to the rate found among veterans of wars in Iraq and Vietnam.
No Physical Injury? No Benefits
Florida’s workers’ compensation system is similar to many other states. A worker who suffers a job-related injury or illness in Florida may be able to obtain benefits that pay for medical treatment and replace a portion of the worker’s lost wages.
However, a worker cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits in the state based solely on the diagnosis of an emotional disorder such as PTSD. Instead, the worker must demonstrate that a physical injury has served as the major contributing cause of the emotional disorder and is at least 50 percent responsible for the condition.
For example, if an ambulance worker arrives to the scene of a crash and observes a victim with a mangled body, the worker would not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Florida if he or she was later diagnosed with PTSD. This is because the worker suffered no physical injuries that triggered the condition.
On the other hand, if a firefighter suffered severe burns while battling a blaze inside a building and developed symptoms diagnosed at a later date as PTSD, the firefighter could, in fact, be eligible to apply for benefits.
Considering that both workers in the above examples are suffering from the same emotional injuries, it may seem illogical that benefits should be denied to one and granted to another. However, that is the reality of Florida workers’ compensation and similar schemes in many other states.
Should There Be a PTSD Exception for Rescue Workers?
It is understandable why states such as Florida require a physical injury to accompany any claim for PTSD-related workers’ compensation benefits. The requirement may play a significant role in reducing fraudulent claims.
However, as the 2012 Brazil study suggests, due to the very nature of their work, rescue workers face a genuine risk of developing PTSD that is not related to a bodily injury. Yet, despite the absence of any physical harm, the emotional disorder can still have a very real, highly damaging impact on the worker’s health and ability to do his or her job.
According to a recent article by the Canadian Press, several provinces in that country have begun to carve out special PTSD exceptions in their workers’ compensation systems for rescue workers. These exceptions recognize the unique risks that rescue workers face.
Perhaps it is time that states such as Florida perform more research into this issue and contemplate similar legislation of their own. If research establishes that Florida police, firefighters and paramedics experience a higher rate of PTSD than other occupations, then it would lend credible support to such a measure.
This article provided by Frank M. Eidson, Attorney at Law