Georgia Bill Would Expand PTSD Help for Responders But Not Through Workers’ Comp

February 1, 2024

After three years of starts and stops, a bill is moving through the Georgia legislature that would provide mental stress benefits for 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 benefits package, said Clint Mueller, director of government affairs for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. The idea is modeled after a firefighters’ cancer benefits plan adopted in recent years in Georgia and a handful of other states.

House Bill 451, similar to a bill that stalled in the Senate last year, appears to have 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, a sum that would likely come from local governments’ budgets. Current law provides workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD only when the responder has an accompanying physical injury.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Devan Seabaugh and others, also would require monthly benefits equal to 60% of the responder’s monthly salary, up to $5,000 a month, for 36 months. This would give law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, correctional officers and probation officers time off from work to seek treatment and recover from traumatic events. Volunteer first responders would be covered.

The legislation provides no state funding for the benefits plan and first responder organizations had hoped for a larger one-time payment.

“It’s not a perfect bill but help is very much needed,” said Gary Clark, president of the Georgia State Firefighters Association, which helped craft the bill. “The main objective is to support first responders and get them back to work.”

Analyses have shown that the cost of the disability benefits could be between $60 to $155 per person, per year, Clark said.

Like the cancer presumption law approved in 2017, HB 451 would keep the benefits plan out of the realm of workers’ compensation insurance. Firefighters had pushed for an expanded workers’ comp benefits requirement last year but ran into a “brick wall,” Clark said.

The concern that some municipal officials and lawmakers had was that expanding workers’ comp for non-physical injuries sets a dangerous precedent and could lead to higher comp premiums for local governments, explained Mueller, of the county commissioners’ association.

“This would essentially be a whole new program,” Mueller said Wednesday.

About half of U.S. states now provide some type of benefits program, mostly through workers’ comp, for PTSD for law officers and other first responders, according to the Gerber & Holder injury law firm in Atlanta.

The text of the bill can be found here. MetLife officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Topics Workers' Compensation Georgia

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