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First Responders Lobby For PTSD Workers’ Comp Bill

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

Firefighters are three times more likely to die from suicide than to die in the line of duty, according to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

A bill moving through the Florida Legislature is looking to change that by making workers compensation cover post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cocoa Fire Department EMT Josh Vandegrift is going to Tallahassee to try and convince lawmakers to allow workers comp coverage for PTSD.

Last year, Vandegrift responded to the scene of a pedestrian hit by a vehicle. The victim was his little brother, who died later that day.

Vandegrift was diagnosed with PTSD, acute anxiety and depression. He was out of work for six months, using all his sick and vacation time, donated sick time and, eventually, unpaid leave.

“I had the choice of either resign, basically, or go back to work,” Vandegrift said. “I decided with the help of my doctor to at least try to go back to work.”

Under current Florida law, first responders are only eligible for lost wages if the PTSD has a corresponding physical disability.

“If I break my pinky or sprain my pinky, it’s covered, or sprain my ankle, but seeing my little brother dead in the street isn’t covered,” Vandegrift said. “So it just ignited a fire in me to fight for a change.”

The legislative session ends May 5, and the bill to change coverage so far has only been heard in the Florida Senate.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.