Georgia Bill Would Expand PTSD Help for Emergency Responders, But Not Through Workers' Compensation

After three years of back-and-forth, a bill is now moving through the Georgia Legislature that would provide mental stress benefits to first responders — not through workers' compensation, but through a relatively new type of supplemental insurance program.

So far, MetLife Inc. is one of the few insurers that has expressed interest in providing the post-traumatic stress disorder benefit package, said Clint Mueller, director of government affairs for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. The idea is modeled on a cancer screening plan for firefighters that has been adopted in Georgia and several other states in recent years.

House Bill 451, similar to a bill that stalled in the Senate last year, appears to be getting new life in the legislative session that began Jan. 8. It was approved by the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee last week.

The measure would require municipalities and counties to adopt insurance programs that provide a one-time payment of $10,000 for first responders diagnosed with PTSD, an amount that would likely come from local government budgets. Current law provides workers' compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder only if the responder has an accompanying physical injury.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Devan Seabaugh and others, would also provide monthly benefits equal to 60% of the respondent's monthly salary, up to $5,000 per month, for 36 months. This would provide law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency responders, paramedics, correctional officers and probation officers time off work to receive treatment and recover from traumatic events. Volunteer first responders would be insured.

The legislation does not provide for state funding of the benefit plan and first responder organizations had hoped for a larger one-time payment.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but we desperately need help,” said Gary Clark, president of the Georgia State Firefighters Association, which helped draft the bill. “The main goal is to support first responders and get them back to work.”

Analysis has shown that the cost of disability benefits could range from $60 to $155 per person per year, Clark said.

Like the cancer presumption law passed in 2017, HB 451 would keep the benefit plan out of the realm of workers' compensation. Fire officials had pushed to expand workers' compensation requirements last year but hit a “wall,” Clark said.

Some local officials and lawmakers were concerned that expanding workers' compensation for non-physical injuries sets a dangerous precedent and could lead to higher compensation premiums for local governments, said Mueller of the county commissioners' association.

“This would essentially be a completely new program,” Müller said on Wednesday.

About half of U.S. states now offer some type of benefits program for PTSD workers and other first responders, mostly through workers' compensation, according to Atlanta law firm Gerber & Holder.

You can find the text of the law here. MetLife officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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