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Police all over nation push for benefits for trauma survivors

Since the horrifying mass shooting at a Newtown school in 2012, Connecticut lawmakers have been hotly debating whether to expand workers' compensation benefits to cover psychological conditions suffered by police due to their traumatic on-the-job experiences. While this debate is tied intimately with state law, local politics and recent history, similar debates are going on in other states as well.

All over the nation, police unions have been fighting to expand workers' compensation benefits to cover post traumatic stress disorder. While the debate over the benefits is often tied in with high-profile mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, some advocates for police officers say PTSD is actually widespread among police officers, who are often exposed to violence and its horrifying aftermath.

Advocates say the exact numbers are hard to ascertain because many police officers are afraid to come forward and admit they are having psychological problems. Some officers who have spoken about their PTSD report feelings of anxiety and depression that make it difficult or impossible to return to work. Without workers' compensation benefits, these officers may have to pay for their own psychological treatment and go without their salaries.

Efforts to extend workers' compensation benefits to police suffering from PTSD has stalled in Connecticut's legislature and failed in Colorado's legislature. A similar measure is being considered in South Carolina's legislature after that state's Supreme Court denied one traumatized police officer's attempt to receive benefits to treat PTSD.

Connecticut's workers' compensation system is designed to be more efficient and cost-effective than other means of seeking compensation, such as filing a lawsuit against an employer. It's also supposed to be more inclusive than a lawsuit, because the injured worker does not have to prove that the employer was negligent in order to be compensated.

Along with these advantages come some limitations, and one of the greatest limitations on workers' compensation is that benefits are predetermined according to lists of types of injuries and illnesses. When workers have work-related illnesses or injuries that fall between the cracks of these lists, they need the help of skilled workers' compensation attorneys.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, "After mass shootings, cities resist police unions' push for medical coverage of officers' PTSD," Sadie Gurman, May 16, 2014

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