Californians continue to witness the courage and commitment of police, firefighters and other first responders. They not only confront mass shootings and wildfires but untold numbers of other lower-profile tragedies and crises.
Until the signing of a new law late last year, many of California’s first responders faced an uphill battle for treatment of PTSD caused by their profession.
State vows to pay its debt to first responders
Before Senate Bill 542, workers’ compensation laws in California required first responders to prove their psychiatric injuries were at least 50% job-related. The new law presumes a diagnosis of PTSD is job-related if the patient is one of several types of first responders. The employer can choose to dispute the presumption.
As a California lawmaker and author of Senate Bill 542 put it, “too often, when the weight of these traumas becomes too much for these heroes to bear, we turn a blind eye to their struggles. Today, California is making clear that post-traumatic stress is not a disorder to be stigmatized. These injuries can be healed.”
PTSD a major but treatable threat to first responders
And the need is urgent. Mental health challenges have now become dominant causes of death among first responders. Consider a report on the issue that the Ruderman Family Foundation released in 2017.
In the United States that year, 46 police officers died from gunshots in the line of duty, but 140 committed suicide. The same year, 93 firefighters died in the line of duty and 103 committed suicide.
As the text of California’s Senate Bill 542 itself reminds us, “severe psychological injury as a result of trauma is not ‘disordered,’ but is a normal and natural human response to trauma, the negative effects of which can be ameliorated through diagnosis and effective treatment.”