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PTSD Bill Aimed at Helping First Responders

December 20, 2016 07:25 PM

A bill aimed at helping Minnesota "first responders" cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be re-introduced in the state legislature next month. It will clarify in state law that PTSD is a "work-related illness" for firefighters, paramedics, police officers and certain others in public safety.

The bill's author is Senator-elect Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who is also a Cottage Grove police officer.

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"We all know that one event, or two or three or four," Schoen said at a meeting he convened in the Senate Office Building to hear from people impacted by PTSD. "I mean I have two handfuls of things I'll never forget."

Among the people who spoke at the meeting was the widow of Jason Woodbury, a St. Paul firefighter who committed suicide in January. "I think the culmination of quite a few bad calls and a lot of personal stress things came to a head for Jason," said Angela Eder Woodbury.

Another St. Paul firefighter and paramedic broke down in tears talking about his PTSD. "I've buried five colleagues in the last seven years," said Brian Cristofono. "Three of them have been suicides..."

Cristofono says fire departments need to start taking this issue more seriously and be proactive. "We spend so much time learning how to save ourselves, how to rescue people, but we don't give any training time to PTSD or mental health," he said in a meeting involving about two dozen firefighters and other public safety workers.

It's not just witnessing the aftermath of car accidents or being unable to save a life that can be traumatic. So can the day-to-day investigative work, especially crimes involving children.

"The total abuse of infants, children and toddlers both physically and mentally," is how Mark Rindfleisch describes the work he did investigating child pornography as a Washington County investigator. "You can't look at all that individual stuff and not be effected." He finally left law enforcement after more than ten years.

Schoen says workers' compensation insurance companies often challenge public safety workers, forcing them to prove their PTSD is work related. His bill would change the law so it would not longer be the worker's burden of proof to show he or she has PTSD.

The bill didn't get a hearing last session, but Schoen hopes positive feedback "across the state" will result in the bill's passage in 2017.

Credits

Tom Hauser

Copyright 2016 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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