It is standard protocol for police, firefighters, and paramedics to run toward the danger. Over time, that can take a toll on the mental health of first responders. Now, a measure in Florida’s Legislature is focusing on protecting first responders who experience PTSD as a result of such a stressful job.
Megan Vila is the sister of firefighter Steve LaDue. He committed suicide in September after witnessing 29 years of horrific crime scenes. Vila says it could have been prevented had his claim for workers’ compensation been taken seriously.
“And my brother did take his life. My brother did file a workers’ comp claim. And he was denied after two months,” Vila says.
She spoke in support of a proposal that would provide workers’ compensation for first responders suffering from specific cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vila believes it finally addresses an issue that often goes unreported.
“We lose many firefighters to suicide. The year my brother died, we lost seven. He’s a person. He had a life. In the year before that we lost 12 in the state of Florida, I’m talking just state of Florida. We lose way more firefighter to suicide than we do in the line of duty. In 2016, David Dangerfield, he was a chief, he committed suicide. Richard Sandel, who is actually from Parkland, committed suicide. We can prevent this from happening,” Vila says.
Current workers’ compensation laws require employers to pay for both medical and wage replacements if the employee suffers from a physical injury that arises from assigned work. Mental or nervous injuries that do not have a physical injury attached to them are not covered.
Rep. Carlos-Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) says this is part of a systemic issue. One his closest friends, Angel Colon, was a victim of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. The officer who rescued him—Omar Delgado, couldn’t continue his work after the traumatic experience, and was eventually fired.
“Omar Delgado saw him as one of the only bodies on the dance floor that still had signs of life, and he pulled him off the dance floor and saved him. Now officer Delgado, as of December 31st 2017, was terminated from his employment with the city of Eatonville Police Department. Because of his condition,” Smith says.
The proposed measure would cover mental injuries like PTSD regardless of any accompanying physical injury for first responders. It also requires employers provide mental health awareness training and treatment.
But, only specific death-related traumas qualify. First responders who witness and are traumatized by the death of a child, a homicide, and a victim who has suffered grievous bodily harm will be covered.
Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg) hopes this eventually leads to covering retired first responders.
“These kind of things a lot of people don’t wanna recognize or acknowledge because of what it might cost. But, look at the cost of the families after these individuals have gone on and retired and have so many years of seeing ungodly things that we probably would never wanna see or even witness,” Newton says.
The bill heads to the floor after passing its final committee unanimously. This comes after the Florida League of Cities dropped its opposition to the measure. It’s companion bill in the Senate has one more committee before heading to the floor.