We ask a lot of first responders. When we dial 911 after a loud crash wakes us from a sound sleep, we want the police to be there in seconds, ready to keep the bad guys at bay. When smoke chokes back our words as wildfires threaten our homes, we expect firefighters to battle heat and fatigue while they keep our families safe.
A Small Fix, a Huge Difference
Yet, when they’ve needed us, the law has let them down. Thankfully, Colorado lawmakers made things right this year.
Until recently, under Colorado law, first responders were unable to apply for workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder suffered while on the job. The statute specifically states that for an employee to qualify for a claim of mental stress, it has to “be generally outside of a worker’s usual experience.” But when your job involves dealing with traumatic events on a day-to-day basis, it hardly seems reasonable that you’re unable to even ask for – let alone receive – any help in dealing with that trauma.
It’s not enough we ask so much from these everyday heroes, but we also expect them to stand tall and keep their problems to themselves as they go about their life-saving business.
Colorado House Bill 1229 emerged this year as a long-overdue remedy. It further clarifies the language in Colorado’s workers’ compensation law that allows first responders to seek claims involving a “psychologically traumatic event” while on the job, if that worker suffered PTSD after the event, as diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional.
In short, this legislation shifts the focus from the employee’s occupation to the actual catastrophic exposure when determining. At the same time, the bill doesn’t “open the floodgates” to a storm of frivolous workers’ comp claims. It’s simply a common sense solution to an unfair consequence from the current law.
The bill, introduced March 6, made its appearance after this year’s legislative session was already more than half over. Committee hearings wrapped quickly, which included testimony from shareholder Nick D. Fogel. That, along with its bipartisan sponsorship, helped the bill clear the Colorado House less than three weeks later on an overwhelming 52-11 vote. The Senate passed the bill by April 19 before sending it along to the governor just before the end of the legislative session.