Georgia Governor signs bill to provide PTSD first responder benefits

Starting in January, first responders in Georgia will be eligible for limited benefits to fund treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 451 into law.

The bill would require local governments and other agencies to pay a one-time $3,000 cash benefit to first responders diagnosed with a mental health disorder. The benefit would be provided by local agencies, not workers' compensation. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Devan Seabaugh and others, would also provide monthly benefits of 60 percent of the first responder's monthly salary, up to $5,000 per month, for 36 months.

This would give police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, correctional officers and parole officers time off from work to receive treatment and recover from traumatic events. Volunteer first responders would be covered at a lower monthly premium.

An earlier version of the bill would have called for a one-time cash payment of $10,000, but that amount was cut in the legislative committee in March.

The idea for the PTSD insurance law is modeled after a cancer care plan for firefighters that has been implemented in Georgia and several other states in recent years. Georgia's previous law provided workers' compensation benefits for PTSD only if the responder had a concurrent physical injury.

Seabaugh, himself a former first responder, said the law now promotes a culture where seeking help is seen as a strength rather than a weakness, TGV News reported.

The bill was named the Ashley Wilson Act, after a Gwinnett, Georgia, police officer. It was approved by the state House of Representatives in late February and received high praise, even though similar measures had failed to pass in the Capitol in the past three years.

“Any first responder receiving an income replacement disability benefit … may be required by the insurer providing such benefits to have his or her condition reassessed by a qualified diagnostician selected by the insurer,” the final bill states. “If such reassessment determines that the first responder is again capable of performing the duties previously performed as a first responder, such benefits shall be discontinued.”


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