Gov. Evers signs compensation bill for emergency responders
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Tony Evers has signed a bipartisan bill that makes it easier for emergency responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to file worker’s compensation claims.
Right now, police and firefighters must show they’re suffering more emotional strain and stress than the day-to-day tensions they normally feel to claim compensation. Under the bill, responders diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist or psychologist need only show they’re suffering by a preponderance of the evidence.
“We see people at their worst. Many times we’re seeing fatalities, we see child abuse, we see sexual assault cases. We see the most horrendous cases,” Altoona Police Chief Kelly Bakken said.
She said seeing those things daily take a toll on her officers. She hopes the new law will motivate more of them to seek treatment.
“It’s very important to our employees to keep them healthy and get them the help when they need it,” Bakken said.
“I think having healthy officers, having healthy firefighters, makes it so we have a healthy community,” said State Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire.
Emerson helped write the legislation.
“To make this a workman’s comp issue where a mental health injury can be treated like a knee injury, a back injury, something like that, is critically important,” she said.
Altoona Fire Chief Mark Renderman said police and firefighters have need a law like this for a long time. He adds, it’ll also help them get treatment before potentially burning out and retiring early.
“It’s just another benefit to help us maintain good employees for a longer period of time,” he said.
But most importantly, the new law sends a message it’s OK to seek help.
“Twenty years ago when I started in law enforcement it just wasn’t something that we talked about. Officers didn’t admit that things affected them,” Bakken said.
The bill guarantees up to 32 weeks of compensation and allows responders to make only three such claims in his or her lifetime. Evers signed the bill Tuesday at a Madison fire station.
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