Under Florida's current workers' compensation law, first responders who develop post-traumatic stress disorder won't be covered unless they have a physical injury as well. First responders, their families and friends say the system is forcing EMTs, firefighters and cops to stay on the job, even when they’re medically not fit to work. Deborah Luis Ortiz’s husband is a first responder.
“And they’re working the streets with undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. This affects us all,” Ortiz said.
A bill sponsored by Representative Matt Willhite (D - Wellington) would approve that coverage outright, so first responders don't have to choose between their mental health and their pay check. The measure is still an improvement from where first responders are now. But the amended bill means first responders with PTSD would have a limited window to qualify for workers comp. Their diagnosis must come within two years of witnessing the traumatic incident. Willhite says the changes stem from feedback he’s gotten.
“It comes with a lot of hard work, and input from staff, members, and members of the community that are dealing with this,” Willhite said.
The changes would also require employers to educate new hires on mental health. The amended plan passed its first House committee Tuesday. The companion version, sponsored by Senator Lauren Book (D - Plantation) also has two more committee stops before it's ready for a floor vote.