A bill that would allow South Carolina’s 11,000+ firefighters, volunteer firefighters, and members of law enforcement to receive workers’ compensation if they are diagnosed with a mental or stress-related illness has received strong support in the House. But the legislation has not advanced in the state Senate and the 2021 legislative session is heading toward a close.
Our workers’ compensation lawyers at Joye Law Firm are on the side of first responders. We recognize the critical role that first responders serve in protecting public safety and handling emergency situations. We proudly represent first responders who have been injured on the job and have disputed workers’ comp claims. We are ready to help you seek all the benefits available by law.
Legislation Would Expand Mental Health Benefits for First Responders
As news station WJBF reported, if the bill is approved, first responders in South Carolina could be eligible for worker’s compensation if they are diagnosed with any of the following conditions:
- Anxiety disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Sleep-wake disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Bills similar to H. 3939 designed to expand the mental health benefits for first responders have been introduced repeatedly since 2015.
When a 2019 version of the bill failed, South Carolina Sen. Marlon Kimpson told ABC News 4 in Charleston that opposition to the bill is driven by insurance companies, which are ultimately responsible for workers’ compensation payments.
South Carolina’s current laws state that in order for workers’ compensation to cover mental injuries, post-traumatic stress, and mental illness suffered in the line of duty, the mental injury must be a side effect of a physical injury. Otherwise, the first responder must demonstrate that the anxiety, stress, or mental injury was caused by “extraordinary and unusual conditions” on the job compared to the normal conditions of the particular employment. The bar is very high to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for anxiety or stress under the current law.
Common Mental Health Issues That First Responders Face
The amount of stress first responders face as part of their jobs can hardly be overstated. First responders provide help in emergency situations to individuals who have been injured or are in peril. The responsibilities of law enforcement include confronting and arresting individuals suspected of criminal activity.
First responders include:
- Police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and state and federal law enforcement personnel
- EMTs and paramedics
- Emergency dispatchers
- Military health care workers.
Workers in these occupations regularly risk harm to themselves to protect the public. From 2011 to 2015, 838 emergency responders died from fatal occupational injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“First responders are usually the first on the scene to face challenging, dangerous, and draining situations,” a 2018 report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says. “They are also the first to reach out to disaster survivors and provide emotional and physical support to them. These duties, although essential to the entire community, are strenuous to first responders and, with time, put them at an increased risk of trauma.”
According to SAMHSA, 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including depression and PTSD, as compared with 20 percent in the general population.
A white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. The same study found that PTSD and depression can be almost five times as prevalent among firefighters and police officers as the general public. Even when suicide does not occur, untreated mental illness can lead to poor physical health and impaired decision-making.
The SAMHSA study says first responders reported a host of functional and relational mental health conditions caused by the pace of their work and the lack of time to recover between traumatic events. These include:
- Stress symptoms and post-traumatic stress symptoms
- Thoughts of suicide/suicide attempts
- Substance abuse
- Fatigue symptoms
- Obsessive-compulsive symptoms
- Secondary or vicarious victimization.
How Joye Law Firm Can Help First Responders in South Carolina
The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act says if a covered employee suffers “injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment,” that employee is entitled to recover medical expenses, compensation for lost work time, and permanent disability benefits if he/she suffered any permanent injury as a result of the work accident.
The workers’ compensation attorneys at Joye Law Firm can help injured emergency responders in South Carolina understand their rights to workers’ compensation benefits and pursue those benefits after a work-related injury. We help clients develop initial claims for benefits or to appeal denied claims.
To develop the evidence needed to obtain benefits, we would review incident reports from the first responder’s department to establish the incident(s) believed to have precipitated their mental health issues and compare it to other service calls. It is very likely that unusual or extraordinary incidents would stand out.
While a workers’ comp claimant must see a doctor their employer provides, the injured worker is not prohibited from obtaining a second opinion, which could be used as evidence in an appeal. If necessary, we can refer clients to mental health care providers who understand the S.C. workers’ compensation system.
Our workers’ compensation lawyers at Joye Law Firm are on the side of first responders and are ready to help you obtain all the benefits available by law to assist you with your work-related injury.
Contact Our First Responders Workers’ Comp Lawyers
The South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers of Joye Law Firm will fight for first responders to receive the benefits they need and deserve for medical bills, lost earnings, disabling injuries, and more. If they have been denied benefits, we will work tirelessly to see that the decision is overturned.
Contact Joye Law Firm if you are a first responder in South Carolina who has been off of the job because of a mental or physical injury including PTSD that is job-related. An initial legal consultation to review your case is free and confidential.
Joye Law Firm has offices in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, and Clinton and accepts cases from across South Carolina. Schedule your free legal consultation by calling 877-941-2615 or reaching out online today.