CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - First responders are sounding the alarm at the state capitol, pushing for post-traumatic stress disorder coverage with just a few months left in the year.
That urgency is increasing after some recent police officer suicides and as mental health is in the spotlight during the pandemic.
19 Investigates continues our in-depth coverage on PTSD and its effects on first responders.
First responders may sign up for the job, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to what they see.
“We see the depravity of mankind. We see the worst things that man does to man,” said Gary Wolske, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police.
“I was with Garfield Heights for about 33 years. I retired 8 years ago,” he said.
19 Investigates found police and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, according to a recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Mental illness, including depression and PTSD, can be major causes of suicide.
The Ohio FOP has been fighting for the state’s laws to change.
Right now, workers' compensation doesn’t cover PTSD treatment unless the first responder has a physical injury that caused it.
Wolske says PTSD doesn’t always come with an injury and without the safety net of workers' comp, many first responders won’t get the help they need.
“Imagine a police officer going to his chief and saying, ‘Hey chief, I’m having some mental issues.’ They’re going to take his gun away. He can’t work now. He can’t support his family,” he said.
House Bill 308, introduced by local State Rep. Tom Patton, a Republican from Strongsville, would change that.
Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, EMT and dispatchers would all be covered under this bill.
According to the Ohio FOP, about 30 states across the country require workers' comp to cover PTSD for first responders.
Wolske worries about PTSD increasing and the pandemic making things worse.
He said the goal is to get first responders treatment so they can get back to work healthy.
“I’ve known of people who went on a call and a murder victim died in their arms, and they’ve suffered from PTSD and are not able to work anymore because of they weren’t able to get the right kind of help,” Wolske said.
Opponents like the Ohio Municipal League worry about the cost of this coverage since cities will foot the bill.
They also want to see a one-year cap on assistance.
But Wolske said they did a study a few years ago finding just 12 firefighters and police officers total applied to disability due to PTSD over two years.
So he doesn’t expect it would cost as much as they think.
“The longer it takes to get this enacted, the more likelihood there is another officer, firefighter, EMT, dispatcher or somebody is going to harm themselves. We just want to prevent that,” he said.
The Ohio FOP has been fighting for PTSD to be covered by workers' comp for almost nine years now.
The Ohio House passed the bill, but it’s been stalled for months in the Senate.
Rep. Patton’s office is optimistic they could have a vote on it by the end of the year.
“If this bill saves one person, it was worth everyone’s time and energy and money to do that, because every life is important,” Wolske said.
On the local level, Cleveland EMS crews will soon be getting PTSD coverage from the city after a years-long fight.
19 Investigates has been following this since the beginning.
They recently won that coverage under their union contract this summer.
The Code Green Campaign is a first responder-oriented mental health advocacy and education organization with a list of resources to help here.