If there is any occupation that inevitably takes its toll on the mind, it would have to be first responders. Firefighters, police officers, EMTs and more all face traumatizing situations on a regular basis. Those who work in the industry insist that these incidents take their toll, leading to a high rate of anxiety, depression and suicide.
Seeking to remedy this epidemic, South Carolina legislators introduced a bill early in June that would expand workers’ compensation coverage to include mental health issues. The hope is that with psychological services, therapy, and medications covered, more first responders will have access to the care they need to cope.
If successful, the bill would go a long way towards improving not just the mental health of first responders, but the quality of rescue services in general.
Suicide and Depression Present a Growing Problem
Occupation-specific statistics on suicide rates are not tracked in South Carolina, but anecdotal evidence seems to speak for itself.
“Not often does a month go by that you don’t see from different firefighter blogs or organizations and things, that a firefighter has committed suicide because of on-the-job-related stress or PTSD issues,” expressed Seth Holzopfel, a firefighter working near Myrtle Beach.
Situations that first responders face in the line of duty can easily wear down the faculties of even the most mentally strong. Without the needed therapy or even just an outlet to deal with raw emotions, mental problems can go from bad to worse.
“You stay in the business long enough, you have your demons,” Austin Pace, EMT, told Savannah’s WTOC news team. “You have those calls you’ll never forget that will never leave you no matter what.”
Some Politicians Clutch Their Purse Over Workers’ Comp Claims for First Responders
Currently under South Carolina insurance regulations, workers’ compensation claims for mental health issues are limited to scenarios that are “extraordinary or unusual.” However, this subjective qualification rules out the majority of horrifying incidents that may be considered part and parcel of the line of duty.
“A traumatic event is in the eye of the beholder,” admitted State Senator Greg Hembree, a staunch proponent of the bill. “I think that’s the difficulty with trying to create some sort of definition. I don’t know how you define watching a child die as a result of a car crash. It’s horrible anyway you slice it, but it may not be as bad as, you know, watching one burn to death.”
Gruesome hairs to split, to be sure, but some in the State House are concerned that without an airtight definition, workers’ comp claims could elevate to unacceptable levels. Some allege that if claims go up by 20 percent per year as predicted, then taxpayers could face $1.7 million in increased costs.
Even if that were the case, many make the sound argument than an upfront investment in first responder welfare beats paying for PTSD-related problems down the line.
“This type of legislation is a ‘pay now or pay later’ type of legislation,” argues Holzopfel. “You can either pay for a new firefighter to come on the job, or you can pay for the care of a firefighter; the one that’s been there with the experience, and what I think is owed to him for his years of service and the things he’s done for his community.”
If you are a first responder and are having trouble getting an injury claim honored by your workers’ comp insurer, you can always entrust the services of a South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer to fight for your rights. Call (704) 307-4350 for a free case evaluation today.