Senator Dan Schoen: Fighting to make PTSD a workplace illness

Law enforcement, fire fighters, paramedics and other public safety officials are faced daily with the worst situations imaginable – situations that no human being should ever have to see. Most people are lucky. They might encounter something horrific once in their life, if at all. But these public safety professionals are being called to tragic scenes multiple times a day. Such experiences can leave lasting effects if not treated properly.

That’s why I introduced legislation to make Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a work place illness for first responders. This legislation will help our public safety officials obtain workers’ compensation benefits that have been denied in the past. It is not easy to be diagnosed with PTSD. However, the evidence is beyond clear that PTSD is directly linked to the type of trauma that some of these heroes have been seeing every day for many years.  

Over the last year, we’ve worked hard to bring people together to demonstrate the need for this legislation. We presented the PTSD legislation before the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council (housed in the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry), which is a group of business and labor leaders that hear workers’ compensation legislation. We had our first meeting on January 11 and a second on February 15 with a third scheduled for April 12, where we expected a vote to take place. During our preparation for the meeting, we were told the April 12 meeting was canceled and PTSD was removed from the agenda. It is my understanding the main obstacle to this legislation was the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, who essentially “killed” the bill.

But that didn’t stop me. Recently, during a Senate debate on workers’ compensation, I offered an amendment to include a provision to ensure PTSD would be classified as a presumptive injury, much in the same way a heart attack or cancer is. A few Senators expressed concern with the process, claiming I didn’t go through the proper process of vetting the idea, but I pushed back. I not only went through the proper process, but I know how important this issue is to those who work in the field. In the end, I convinced the body to support my amendment. Eventually, Senators from both parties spoke in favor of taking care of these workers and the amendment passed unanimously.  

Unfortunately, corporate interests at the Capitol are working against police officers, fire fighters and other public safety officers. They don’t want provisions like this because they believe it might add costs. If, however, we make PTSD an illness that we presume you can get from being a firefighter or a police officer, the costs would be dispersed across the state and would not be at all prohibitive. Additionally, even though the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce does not employ law enforcement or firefighters, they are worried that this “presumption” of illness could be assumed to private sector employees that their business members do employ.

This common-sense change has caused quite a stir at the capitol and it’s all because the Chamber appears to not want one more cent paid to those who deserve to be taken care of, despite being injured in the line of duty. Now the bill is waiting in the Minnesota House of Representatives where Republicans also have the majority. 

If you’re in law enforcement, a fire fighter, paramedic, public safety dispatcher or you know and love one, call your legislators and tell them it’s time to take care of the people who we call on to handle the situations we can’t handle. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the statement “we support cops and fire fighters” when talking about this issue, and I’m frustrated by the actions taken by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to block this support. It’s time to show real support, not pay lip service. It’s time for all Minnesotans to show they mean it when they claim to support law enforcement, fire fighters, paramedics and other public safety officials.

This viewpoint was first published in the Hastings Star Gazette.

Dan Schoen represented District 54 in the southeast Twin Cities metro.

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