Texas first responders should get workers’ comp for PTSD, lawmaker argues

Austin police cadets at their graduation on July 8, 2016 (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)
Austin police cadets at their graduation on July 8, 2016 (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — State Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, filed legislation Thursday morning to allow workers’ compensation benefits for first responders who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

“PTSD can destroy careers, family relationships, and the lives of those impacted,” Wray said. “Currently the only way that a first responder who is suffering from PTSD can receive coverage through workers’ compensation is to assert that he or she suffers from a mental impairment. Such an assertion can be grounds for dismissal of employment and can carry a stigma.”

Wray says mental health is often underreported among officers because of the financial burden associated with missing work to get treatment. He says House Bill 1983 would change that.

“It’s just not right for our first responders to have to spend a lot of money out of pocket for a condition that is a result of a line of duty incident,” Kevin Lawrence with the Texas Municipal Police Association said. “With what happened in Dallas and what happened in Baton Rouge, we are seeing more and more of a need for this. Having to pay out of pocket is just one more hindrance, one more reason for officers not to come forward and get help.”

Lawrence stood next to firefighters, police officers and lawmakers on Thursday in support of HB-1983.

“It is traumatic at best. What do you do when you have to go home and tell your wife some of the horrible things you see every days,” Chris Jones, training coordinator at Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) said. “And not to be able to get official help or professional help for those feelings that you are going through and the problems that you are having from the things that you have seen in your career.”

Jones served 31 years in the Houston police force. He has since retired his badge, but says the memories from the line of duty still haunt him to this day.

“I’d like you to picture, if you will, some of the officers involved in the Dallas massacre, who were under fire from this sniper and next to somebody who was struck down by a bullet,” Jones said. “I would like to have you picture if you will an officer having to run into a fire and drag a burned victim out of a house, not to mention the firefighters that do that every day.”

Jones says it’s incidents like the attack on Dallas police officers in July and most recently in Baton Rouge that prove why this legislation needs to be addressed immediately.

“If they are not able to work,” Jones said, “they are not able to serve the citizens of this great state.”

Lawrence says Texas has one of the highest rates of suicide among officers. According to a “Badge of Life” study, approximately 102 law enforcement officers nationwide committed suicide in 2015. That’s the leading cause of death among police officers.

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