Two Southern states have taken steps to provide improved benefits for first responders who suffer from mental conditions and from cancers that may be linked to workplace hazards.
In North Carolina, lawmakers approved a state budget that includes a supplemental cancer insurance policy for firefighters. It would kick in when workers’ compensation does not, according to local news reports.
The General Assembly budget bill, signed by Gov. Roy Cooper this month, sets aside millions for the program. The plan will provide diagnosed firefighters some $12,000 for out-of-pocket medical expenses; a $25,000 lump-sum payment for each diagnosis, capped at $50,000; and 75% of a firefighter’s monthly salary or $5,000, whichever is less, if the responder can’t work and is not receiving workers’ comp benefits.
The measure passed after reports that the number of cases in the state’s cancer registry has tripled over the past year.
North Carolina is not one of the 22 states that have adopted workers’ comp cancer presumption laws for firefighters, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council. Several other states have taken the defined-benefits approach in recent years. These include Mississippi, Georgia, New York, Colorado and a handful of others.
In Georgia, state Rep. Gregg Kennard has pre-filed a bill that would make post-traumatic stress disorder a compensable condition for firefighters, police, emergency medical workers, correctional officers and emergency dispatchers.
House Bill 855 will be considered by the Georgia General Assembly when it convenes in January.
“At this moment in Georgia, a first responder can only make a claim if there is an accompanying physical injury,” Kennard, D-Lawrenceville, said, according to Georgia news sites. “HB 855 expands our (workers’ compensation) code to include stand-alone psychological injury.”
The bill is expected to be assigned to the House Industry and Labor Committee. Kennard has asked supporters of the measure to contact committee members and ask for a hearing to be held for the bill.
PTSD treatment and time off has become a top priority for first responders around the country, who are exposed to traumatic scenes almost on a daily basis and who have seen suicide rates escalate in recent years. The majority of U.S. states now provide some comp benefits for PTSD, but most of those states require an accompanying physical injury. Only nine states now provide compensation for mental-only injuries, according to the Gerber & Holder, a claimants’ law firm in Atlanta.
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