Battle for PTSD ben­e­fits for emer­gency per­son­nel may finally be over

The News-Times - - WEATHER - By Keith M. Pha­neuf

Af­ter strug­gling for six years, leg­is­la­tors, la­bor ad­vo­cates and mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers will an­nounce a long-awaited com­pro­mise Mon­day on post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der ben­e­fits for po­lice and fire­fight­ers.

Though they de­clined to pro­vide de­tails of the agree­ment, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague — who’s spear­headed the push to ex­pand cov­er­age for first re­spon­ders — and Con­necti­cut Con­fer­ence of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Joe DeLong, both pre­dicted Fri­day it would draw bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

Con­necti­cut has been strug­gling with its work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem since the De­cem­ber 2012 shoot­ing deaths of 26 chil­dren and staff at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School demon­strated sig­nif­i­cant short­com­ings in the sys­tem’s abil­ity to ad­dress the emo­tional strains placed on emer­gency per­son­nel.

Crit­ics have ar­gued that the sys­tem largely pro­vides mental health ben­e­fits to emer­gency per­son­nel who are the di­rect vic­tims of vi­o­lence, and not nec­es­sar­ily to those who wit­ness it in gory de­tail. At the same time, mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers ex­pressed fears that if mod­i­fi­ca­tions weren’t crafted prop­erly, it could be­come a huge fis­cal bur­den on local property taxpayers.

Law­mak­ers have been try­ing for six years to come up with a solution the prob­lem but have been stymied — un­til now.

“I’ve very op­ti­mistic that we have some­thing that can pass — even pos­si­bly pass on con­sent,” Osten said. The Sprague law­maker was re­fer­ring to the Sen­ate’s “con­sent cal­en­dar,” a pro­ce­dural tool used to adopt nu­mer­ous non-con­tro­ver­sial bills with one unan­i­mous vote.

DeLong took his op­ti­mism one step fur­ther.

“I think there’s a very great po­ten­tial that this bill we worked out could ac­tu­ally be model leg­is­la­tion for other parts of the coun­try,” he said. “This is not a unique-toCon­necti­cut is­sue and I re­ally like how the play­ers came to the ta­ble and worked this deal out in a way oth­ers may want to follow.”

First re­spon­ders to the New­town tragedy were con­fronted with the bod­ies of 20 chil­dren, all 6 or 7 years old, and six ed­u­ca­tors.

But more than 100 pub­lic em­ploy­ees and volunteers, in­clud­ing state and mu­nic­i­pal po­lice, fire­fight­ers and mem­bers of the Chief State Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s Of­fice, were ex­posed to the car­nage to some de­gree.

Con­necti­cut health care providers who de­bated this is­sue over the past six years have tes­ti­fied be­fore law­mak­ers that post trau­matic stress dis­or­der, a se­vere anxiety dis­or­der that can de­velop any­where from im­me­di­ately af­ter an event to months or years later that cre­ates psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma.

That trauma can stem from the death of an­other, the threat of death to one­self or an­other, or some other form of phys­i­cal or sex­ual threat that over­whelms the mind’s abil­ity to cope. And because the brain of­ten at­tempts to bury the trauma, it can resur­face again and again if left un­ad­dressed.

De­pend­ing on the trauma in­volved, those suf­fer­ing from PTSD may be­come some­what over anx­ious and have night­mares. Oth­ers may find them­selves in­vol­un­tar­ily re­liv­ing the trauma, face much more se­vere anxiety, or de­velop tachy­car­dia or other heart ail­ments.

Osten said one of the keys to break­ing the grid­lock that has kept this is­sue from be­ing re­solved year af­ter year is im­proved re­search.

An anal­y­sis of PTSD ben­e­fits within Florida’s work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem showed a very small num­ber of per­son­nel who needed treat­ment rel­a­tive to those ex­posed to vi­o­lence or its af­ter­math.

An­other key fac­tor, DeLong said, in­volved mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and unions work­ing jointly with an out­side con­sul­tant, hold­ing more than 20 meet­ings over the past year to re­search and dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion on the topic.

“We all have the same goal — not break­ing the backs of the taxpayers and get­ting peo­ple back to work,” he said. “I think we’re com­mit­ted to sound, re­spon­si­ble solutions as op­posed to shot­gun leg­is­la­tion that is not well thought out.”

Ad­vo­cates for the com­pro­mise have sched­uled a noon press con­fer­ence Mon­day at the state Capi­tol to dis­cuss de­tails.


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