Call it a mixed day for advocates of expanding treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in first responders.
In Tallahassee, a bill to expand workers’ compensation benefits to first responders with PTSD cleared its first committee Tuesday. But the city of Eatonville could vote tonight to fire Omar Delgado, a police officer who developed PTSD responding to the Pulse nightclub shooting.
Delgado has been off patrol since the June 12, 2016, shooting left 49 dead at Pulse nightclub. Delgado has been open about his PTSD, saying being stuck in the club for hours contributed to his problem.
“I had two options — I could stare at the bodies, or I could stare at the walls,” Delgado. “After a while, you got so numb of just staring at it. Just imagine, that is what’s engraved in my head now. It’s like a parasite, just eating away.”
Delgado is six months shy of being with the department for 10 years, which would increase the amount of his pension he would be able to start getting at age 55. A GoFundMe account has been opened for Delgado.
Under current law, first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder can only get benefits like lost wages if they’ve also been physically hurt. Senate Bill 376 allows PTSD benefits for first responders if they witness or respond to the scene of a murder, suicide, fatal injury, child death or mass casualty.
The bill was amended. It no longer requiring first responders witness a death. And a requirement that they seek treatment within 15 days was also removed.
David Cruz with the Florida League of Cities is against the bill, saying it could open governments up to fraud.
“I think the most important thing to keep in mind is the cost, the cost to taxpayers if this bill were to become law,” Cruz said. “Unfortunately, this bill has been broadened.”
Lawmakers heard more than an hour of testimony from first responders with PTSD, as well as families affected by it. Joshua Granada is an Orlando fire fighter who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting.
He said PTSD has left him suicidal at times.
“If you’ve never sat on the end of your bed, crying, thinking about killing yourself, and you have no idea why, I mean, I don’t wish that on anyone, and that’s where I was,” Granada told the committee. “I still have days like that, and I don’t know why. I’m here to tell you PTSD is real. I was one of those people who was on the fence before.”
The bill must clear three more committees and a full vote in the Florida Legislature.
Meanwhile, the town of Eatonville will decide tonight whether or not Delgado will be fired at the end of the month.