Jim had seen it all in his years of service as a Florida first responder. From car accidents to natural disasters, he had been on the front lines helping those in need. But even with his extensive training, the constant exposure to trauma was starting to take a toll on him.
Jim found himself constantly on edge, suffering from nightmares and flashbacks, and wondering if he had developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a serious condition that can significantly impact a first responder’s personal and professional life. Fortunately, under Florida workers’ compensation law, support is available. In this blog, we’ll explain Florida workers’ compensation benefits for first responders with PTSD, including symptoms, eligibility, and how to file a claim.
If you’re a first responder struggling with PTSD and have questions about whether you have a workers’ compensation claim, call DiBiaggio Law at (561) 473-9800 to schedule a FREE consultation with an experienced and compassionate local workers’ comp attorney. You don’t need to suffer alone!
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as an accident, natural disaster, military combat, violent assault, or any other event that causes extreme fear and/or helplessness.
First responders such as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and dispatchers are particularly at risk of developing PTSD due to the nature of their work. According to research, the prevalence of PTSD is high among first responders.
For example, 15% of emergency personnel (paramedics), 13% of rescue teams, 7% of firefighters, and 5% of police officers are estimated to experience PTSD.
Retired firefighters reported significantly greater levels of symptomatology, with the prevalence estimates of PTSD at 35%. It’s estimated that 18-24% of dispatchers also suffer from PTSD.
These statistics show that first responders are at an increased risk for developing PTSD due to their exposure to traumatic events in their line of work. First responders need to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with PTSD and seek help if needed.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Here are a few of the symptoms of PTSD a first responder may experience:
- Re-experiencing traumatic events through flashbacks or nightmares
- Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event
- Negative changes in mood or thoughts
- Increased anxiety or irritability
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating, irritability, and outbursts of anger
- Feeling detached from others
- Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response
PTSD can significantly impact a first responder’s personal and professional life, making it difficult for them to perform their duties and maintain relationships.
The Stigma Surrounding PTSD in the First Responder Community
Despite its prevalence, PTSD is often stigmatized in the first responder community. First responders are viewed as tough, brave, and fearless, and the idea of them being affected by a mental health condition can be difficult for some to accept.
As a result, many first responders struggling with PTSD may avoid seeking treatment for fear of being perceived as weak or unfit for duty. This stigma can also make it difficult for first responders to access the help and support they need to recover from their condition.
Getting Treatment for PTSD
Getting treatment for PTSD is critical for first responders, both for their mental health and ability to perform their duties. Workers’ compensation benefits can help cover the cost of treatment, including therapy, medications, and hospitalization.
In addition, early treatment can help prevent the symptoms of PTSD from getting worse and can help first responders get back to work as soon as possible.
Florida Workers’ Compensation Law for First Responders with PTSD
Recognizing the traumatic impact that tragedies can have on Florida’s first responders, the Florida Legislature enacted new PTSD law in 2018 to provide medical and indemnity benefits for those who were diagnosed with PTSD after being involved in certain tragic events while on duty. In 2022, new legislation went a step further and extended the deadlines for filing the notice of injury and workers’ compensation claim.
The chart below illustrates the changes to Florida’s workers’ compensation law.
|Applicable to First Responders||Law Before 10/1/18||Law Amended Effective
10/1/18 and 7/1/22
|Covered Condition||Only mental injuries with accompanying physical injury||PTSD without the need for an accompanying physical injury if certain requirements are met|
|Medical Benefits||Available only with accompanying physical injury||Available for PTSD diagnosis without the need for accompanying physical injury|
|Indemnity Benefits (lost wages)||Not available for mental injuries||Available for PTSD diagnosis without the need for accompanying physical injury|
|Timeframe for Notice of Injury||Within 90 days of the manifestation of the disorder or a qualifying event, whichever is later||Within 90 days of a qualifying event or diagnosis of PTSD, whichever is later|
|Timeframe for Filing Claim||Within 52 weeks of the qualifying event||Within 52 weeks of the qualifying event or diagnosis of PTSD, whichever is later|
|Limitations on Benefits||1% permanent impairment rating limitation and the six-month limitation on temporary indemnity benefits apply||No limitations on benefits, with certain exceptions defined in the law|
Who is a First Responder?
Under Florida law, a first responder means a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, or a paramedic employed by the state or local government.
A volunteer law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic engaged by the state or local government is also considered a first responder.
How Does a First Responder Qualify for PTSD Benefits?
- The PTSD must result from the first responder acting within the course of their employment and caused by a qualifying event as defined under Florida law.
- The first responder must be diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed psychiatrist who is an authorized treating physician.
Once these criteria are met, first responders may be eligible for medical care, lost wages, vocational rehabilitation services, and other assistance depending on their circumstances.
The first step in obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD is getting a proper diagnosis. A first responder must see a mental health professional trained to diagnose PTSD.
The mental health professional will conduct a thorough evaluation and determine if the first responder has PTSD due to their work. If the diagnosis is positive, the next step is to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Filing Your Workers’ Compensation Claim
After you have been diagnosed with PTSD, the next step is to file a workers’ compensation claim with your employer. You will need to provide evidence, such as medical records, that prove your diagnosis and that the PTSD is related to your job or workplace environment.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim for PTSD can be complex and time-consuming, so it is advisable to consult with experienced local workers’ comp attorneys.
How a Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help You
Navigating the workers’ compensation system can be complicated, and it can be challenging to prove that your PTSD resulted from your job duties. A workers’ comp attorney can help you by:
- Gathering evidence to support your claim
- Negotiating with the insurance company to ensure that you receive the full benefits you are entitled to
- Representing you in court, if necessary
Workers’ Compensation Benefits Available to First Responders
Once a first responder has received a PTSD diagnosis and their workers’ compensation claim has been approved, they are eligible for a range of benefits. The exact benefits that a first responder will receive for their PTSD will depend on the specific details of their case, but some common forms of support include:
- Medical Expenses: This can include the cost of therapy, medication, and other treatments.
- Lost Wages: If a first responder cannot work due to PTSD, they may be eligible for wage replacement benefits.
- Permanent Partial Disability Benefits: If a first responder cannot return to their pre-injury job, they may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits.
- Vocational Rehabilitation: If a first responder cannot return to their pre-injury job, they may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services.
Support for Family Members of First Responders with PTSD
Family members of first responders with PTSD can also be affected by the condition, and they may need support to cope with the impact of PTSD on their loved ones.
Florida workers’ compensation benefits may include support for family members, including counseling, support groups, and other resources.
Searching Online for a “Workers’ Comp Lawyer Free Consultation Near Me”? Contact DiBiaggio Law Instead
Dealing with PTSD can be a challenging and distressing experience, especially since you’ve dedicated your life to helping others. If you’re a first responder experiencing symptoms of PTSD, let us do our job and help you navigate the complex workers’ compensation system and advocate on your behalf to ensure you receive the maximum benefits available to you under the law.
At DiBiaggio Law, we understand the sacrifices you’ve made to keep our communities safe, and we are committed to helping you get the relief and support you need to move forward with your life.
We offer a FREE consultation where we’ll review your case and give you our honest opinion. If we take your case, we’ll do so on a contingency basis, which means you won’t owe us anything unless we recover compensation for you.
DiBiaggio Law is based in West Palm Beach, Florida, and has been serving clients in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties for nearly 30 years. Call us at (561) 473-9800 or complete our online form to schedule your FREE consultation.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.