Firefighters, experts supporting LB 963 said legislation would change rules relating to personal injuries, workers’ compensation
LINCOLN, Neb. —
More than a handful of firefighters shared personal, powerful stories about the challenges they’ve faced while diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Their families and mental health experts joined them in asking Nebraska state senators to champion first responders and a new bill, which they say will help them better serve communities by providing guarantees and options for mental health treatment.
Nebraska state Sen. Tom Brewer, who introduced LB 963, wrote the following language in the bill he introduced to the Business and Labor Committee at Monday’s public hearing:
“First responders face unique and uniquely dangerous risks in their sworn mission to keep the public safe…. It is imperative for society to recognize occupational injuries related to post-traumatic stress.”
Tyler Fausset, an Omaha firefighter, spoke publicly about a call he responded to in 2015 that he said changed his life forever.
“This call was the worst of society, where a young mother lost her life. In the time following, I began to see my life around me, fall apart,” Fausset said.
Donald Dodge, a third-generation firefighter who also works in Omaha, said the trauma he suffered after a call in 2008, would repeatedly run through his mind all day.
“Over the next decade, my personality changed radically. Memory loss, quick temper, responding aggressively to being surprised…,” Dodge said.
Dodge, Fausset and every firefighter who testified at the public hearing voiced support for LB 963.
“(LB 963) provides the licensed counselors and therapists who can offer opinions to the Nebraska’s Workers Compensation Board,” Dodge said.
A study commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation and shared by the U.S Fire Association found that first responders (police officers and firefighters) are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
Brewer said another part of LB 963 would allow the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to provide for and fund preventive care through therapies and resiliency training.
“You can only do this work so much and it not tear away at the fabric of your being. I think that’s the best way to describe it,” he said.
Opponents of LB 963 said they want senators to remove clergy from the list of experts who could potentially report cases of first responders suffering from PTSD. Other critics pointed to insurance and compensation costs that would come at a high price for small towns.
Myrrhanda Jones, the outreach director for the International Association of Fire Fighters Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery, said LB 963 would give first responders critical education that could help them find more therapeutic outlets.
“When a new academy class (of law enforcement, firefighters) comes through, gets on the job, they’re trained about what mental health issues they might face during their career and they’re given the tools necessary to be able to be successful, and know what are positive coping mechanisms,” Jones said.
According to mental health experts who testified at the hearing, 14 states have already passed PTSD presumptive laws, which allow first responders to be compensated for lost wages and treatment costs if they are diagnosed with PTSD in their professional capacity.