Workers’ compensation might include PTSD

It’s taken three years to get here, but nearly all sides of an issue to expand Colorado’s workers’ compensation law to include post-traumatic stress disorder are in agreement.

Under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Friday, employees could make workers’ compensation claims for that disorder, commonly known as PTSD, under certain circumstances.

Sponsors of HB1229, Reps. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, said it will go a long way to helping workers debilitated by the condition.

“PTSD isn’t a term about having a bad day, it’s not about having a bad week, it’s not even about remembering something that happened a few years ago that’s maybe the worst thing in your life,” Singer said. “It’s about being stuck in that moment almost permanently where you can’t shake the ghosts that you’ve seen. Stuck in a moment where you can’t remove the thought of a dead body, the thought of a serious injury, a gruesome event ... from your mind.”

In order for a workers’ compensation claim to be honored, a worker would need a licensed psychiatrist to support a PTSD diagnosis that the worker witnessed a psychologically traumatic event.

The bill defines that event as something outside a worker’s usual experience in the course of their jobs.

While the bill is primarily aimed at getting such coverage for first responders — police officers, emergency medical service technicians, firefighters and other public safety professionals — it does apply to anyone.

For that reason, it garnered some, albeit limited, opposition when it was debated in a House committee earlier this week.

Jackie Zheleznyak, manager of government relations for the Denver Health Authority, said the bill goes too far when it tries to offer PTSD coverage to every worker in the state.

She said some people’s jobs are inherently prone to trauma, and had some harsh words to say about it.

“We see blood, guts and gore every day. Our job is to help the blood, guts and gore,” Zheleznyak told the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee on Tuesday. “Not everyone will always survive blood, guts and gore. We can’t save everybody. We do our best ... but when we’re talking about witnessing a death, maybe this isn’t the right industry for you to be working if seeing someone code while they’re in our ER is going to send you into shock and then post-traumatic stress.”

Zheleznyak suggested that if the bill was truly meant for first responders, then it should be narrowed to just those workers.

The bill requires a final House vote before it can head to the Senate.


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