Law expanding PTSD benefits for first responders awaits governor's signature

Redefines PTSD as workplace injury, making workers comp an option

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new law passed by the state Legislature is aimed at protecting first responders still on the job and after they retire. The law expands post-traumatic stress disorder benefits and classifies them as a workplace injury, making it eligible to be claimed for workers' compensation.

The bill had strong support from state CFO Jimmy Patronis and local firefighters said the move is a positive one for first responders. 

Many Jacksonville firefighters are pleased that the issue of PTSD, which is becoming much more openly talked about among first responders, is now something they can get treatment for much quicker than in the past.

Every day, first responders go to scenes, not knowing what they might encounter. Some days it is a house fire. Some days it is a car crash. Some days it is a shooting. 

"Shootings that involve multiple people, incidents that involved deaths of children, you can see it affected the individual," said JFRD Chief Robin Gainey.

Gainey has been with Jacksonville Fire Rescue for 30 years. He said he has seen the way stress and trauma has impacted those he works side by side with, some impacted right away, others with a more cumulative effect.

"You can tell that people deal with it off the job," Gainey said. "And it weighs on their families, weighs on their personal lives. Sometimes they use crutches. They take off more time, they are away from the job more because they can’t stand to come. Or they start doing other things that are negatively affecting their personal lives."

Now, because of the new bill, the help will be available elsewhere. The PTSD must be diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist, meet one of the qualifications such as seeing a death or injury of a person or child. First responders said, with the scenes they go to routinely, this should help them live their best lives at work and at home.

"I asked a friend who is a civilian “do you think about death a lot?“ And I don’t mean my own personal death, but just death," said Chuck Baldwin, an engineer for JFRD. "And he said 'I don’t think about death at all. Or that much.' I think about it all the time. I’m always thinking about death because of my job."

The new bill is now awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature. If he signs it, which he has said previously he will do, it becomes law Oct. 1.