Colorado legislators, recognizing the need to include mental distress from on-the-job traumatic experiences for those other than first responders, extended a new law to include these workers. First response employees, such as police, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and other emergency personnel regularly see horrific incidents at work. Even though emergency professionals receive training for their high-stress occupations, they must still deal with their own emotions elicited by the suffering of others. Peripheral workers who witness desperate situations are likewise affected.
Emergency personnel can be understandably distressed when confronted with extreme traumatic situations, even for workers experienced with devastating injuries and death. For example, the events of 9/11 left indelible trauma not only to human responders, but also to search-and-rescue animals working to locate survivors.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Many trauma-related services, such as the firefighting, allow stress debriefing time and services for their workers who respond to tragedies beyond normal experience. Even so, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder–a mental health condition that results from witnessing or participating in medical care for people who have experienced terrifying adverse events–can develop over time with repeated exposure to these high-level, stressful situations. It can be just as powerfully debilitating in those who are not first responders, but who work in areas with exposure to the same or similar traumatic incidents.
One of the worst feelings for any employee is encountering a disaster so severe that they are helpless to fix the situation or help the victim survive devastating injuries. Some medical responders, in spite of the logical recognition that they cannot save everyone and even though their treatment decisions are correct, still blame themselves at some level for not preserving life. Self-blame can turn into PTSD, with high levels of anxiety, depression and other psychological symptoms that make it hard for them to effectively perform their jobs.
Colorado’s extended workers’ compensation law for PTSD
In 2017, Colorado’s governor signed a bill to allow first responders access to PTSD workers’ compensation claims. The law was further expanded to include employees who were not first responders but, due to the nature of their work and their proximity to distressful events, were vulnerable to developing PTSD.
Colorado workers who are not first responders but develop symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety, depression, nightmares, hypervigilance, trouble concentrating, inability to perform their jobs and fear of going to work, are now able to file workers’ compensation claims.
They may also benefit from getting immediate professional support to help them with their workers’ compensation claim, particularly in light of employers’ misunderstanding of PTSD symptoms in non-first-responders and possible rejection of the new law that allows their workers to access full workers’ compensation for on-the-job stress.