COLUMBUS — Proposed legislation would make Ohio first responders eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they have been diagnosed with work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even if they haven’t suffered an “accompanying physical injury.”
House Bill 308 has support from first responders, but it is drawing opposition from associations that represent the state’s manufacturers, businesses and local governments.
Under current law, employees are not eligible for benefits under the state’s workers’ compensation law for PTSD unless it stems from a “compensable” physical injury.
“Failure to treat PTSD often leads to death or suicide and creates on-the-job issues, such as avoidance and hypersensitivity,” Michael Weinman, director of governmental affairs for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said during a House Insurance Committee hearing. “Once identified, PTSD can be treated effectively, allowing first responders to continue their careers serving our great state.”
If approved as written, the legislation would increase annual PTSD claims and costs to the workers’ compensation system by an estimated $44 million in the first year, according to a Legislative Service Commission (LSC) estimate. A precise price tag depends on how many first responders are diagnosed and how much in benefits is paid.
“We’ve been fighting for this for nine years now,” Weinman said in response to a question from state Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg. “And in that period of time, dozens of police officers have committed suicide. The resistance to this is maddening, quite frankly. There’s absolutely no justification for it. It’s something that makes me emotional, quite frankly, that we haven’t done this already and that people have been taking their lives because they haven’t been able to get help.”
Last year, the state House included the PTSD provision in its version of House Bill 80, which set the two-year budget for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. However, the state Senate removed it from the version it passed, prompting the introduction of HB 308.
The County Commissioners Association of Ohio & Ohio Township Association and the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association submitted written testimony opposing the bill. The Ohio State Medical Association previously voiced support for the proposal.
“The state’s workers’ compensation system is not designed to compensate purely mental injuries,” Kevin Shimp, director of labor and legal affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakers. “Instead, we believe a broader conversation about where PTSD arising in the course of employment is the most effectively and appropriately financed – whether that’s private health insurance, private disability insurance or a completely different model – and that these talks about where it should be financed should continue to take place.”
Ghanbari did not buy the argument.
“Post-traumatic stress does not have to have an accompanying physical injury,” Ghanbari said, referencing his own experiences in Afghanistan. “I don’t think that you can sit here and say with any amount of confidence that you must have an accompanying physical injury to have post-traumatic stress. … It’s concerning to me that we have to sit here and, in my estimation, play games with people’s lives.”
Todd DeFeo is a contributor The Center Square