New law to fund study for first responder PTSD fund

Dayton police at a city commission meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Dayton police at a city commission meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Police and firefighters won a long-fought victory at the Ohio Statehouse last week when lawmakers approved a bill to establish a fund to pay for mental health treatment and lost wages for first responders who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

House Bill 308 cleared the Ohio House and Senate on Tuesday. It calls for the creation of a new state fund to pay lost wages and medical expenses for public safety officers suffering from PTSD as a result of their jobs. It also would prohibit employers from penalizing workers who file a claim with the fund.

The Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund would contract an actuarial firm to study the financial requirements of the new fund. The study must be completed by Oct. 1.

The legislation stops short of providing money for the new fund.

The bill underwent a substantial re-write in the Senate before it won final approval.

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State Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, said there were concerns in the Ohio Senate about how much the original bill would cost and that it would only affect one area of first responders.

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The revised bill applies to peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers who are diagnosed by a psychiatrist or licensed clinical psychologist with PTSD. Currently, first responders can receive workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD only if the disorder accompanies a physical injury. HB308 doesn’t require that the PTSD be accompanied by a physical on-the-job injury.

The Fraternal Order of Police, one of the largest police unions in Ohio, backed House Bill 308, through it fell short of what the union wanted, said Ohio FOP lobbyist Mike Weinman.

Ohio has more than 30,000 police and firefighters.

In 2015, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation estimated that 18 percent of first responders would file for PTSD coverage at a cost of $182 million a year — almost double the annual premium public entities pay combined.

An analysis by the Legislative Service Commission produced in August 2019 estimates claims could increase by $44 million in the first year, depending on how many first responders are diagnosed with PTSD.

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