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Plan Would Aid First Responders With PTSD

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Christopher Hopfner
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Senate panel on Tuesday gave the nod to a bill that would help first responders receive workers’ compensation insurance benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder without accompanying physical injuries.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who is sponsoring the bill (SB 376), said more firefighters commit suicide than die in the line of work. Additionally, she said, more police die annually by suicide than they do at the hands of criminals.

“This is a serious issue in our great state and nationally. These men and women witness and experience the greatest tragedies and worst disasters of our society and are in danger on a daily basis,” Book said. “PTSD literally is killing great men and women, creating addictions and literally tearing our families apart.”

In Florida, injured workers are prevented from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits — either medical benefits or lost wages — for mental or nervous injuries not accompanied by physical injuries.

The law was changed in 2007, though, to allow first responders to obtain medical benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder without having accompanying physical injuries, according to a Senate staff analysis. However, they still are precluded from obtaining any lost wages for PTSD.

The bill, approved Tuesday by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, would authorize first responders to obtain lost wages due to post-traumatic stress disorder and would lower the evidentiary standard for first responders to obtain the benefits from the current “clear and convincing” to a preponderance of the evidence.

Book said she is continuing to work with the Florida League of Cities, which is concerned with the measure and the potential impacts it has on the costs of workers’ compensation.

The committee heard from Steve LaDue, whose son, a Tampa firefighter and paramedic, committed suicide last year.

“It’s not right that a son dies before his father, but this happened,” LaDue said. “And it happened because my son suffered especially in his late years of being a firefighter. …. So many things affected him.”

LaDue said his son was affected by many calls during his lengthy career, including one where he went to a scene of a car accident and saw a decapitated body. He also recalled a story where his son was called to a rape scene and realized the victim was his high school girlfriend.

LaDue was one of several family members who testified before the committee on Tuesday, all in support of the bill.

David Cruz, a Florida League of Cities lobbyist, said his association supports first responders but that the changes being proposed would have a cost impact.

“Unfortunately, when you have a discussion of new benefits, the costs to Florida taxpayers has to be part of that conversation,” Cruz said.

The bill is slated next to go to the Senate Appropriations and Rules committees. The House version (HB 227) has not been heard.