Police seek expansion of Connecticut workers’ compensation benefits

New legislation is set to be considered by the Connecticut Senate that would expand the workers' compensation benefits available to first responders for mental illness they experience after responding to a traumatic event. In the wake of the tragic Newtown shootings, some are finding the state's current workers' compensation system is not fully equipped to handle these situations and the care that is often required afterward.

Proposed legislation to expand workers' compensation coverage for mental or emotional illness

Currently, Connecticut workers' compensation benefits are generally only available to cover mental or emotional illness or treatment if the illness was caused by a work-related injury or disease, reports the Office of Legislative Research of the Connecticut General Assembly. The proposed legislation would expand coverage to workers who suffer mental impairment after experiencing a traumatic event, even if they are not physically injured.

Specifically, the legislation would make workers' compensation benefits available if the workers' jobs "led them to witness the death or maiming, or the immediate aftermath of the death or maiming, of at least one person," according to the Associated Press. It also would provide coverage for a mental or emotional impairment caused by a traumatic event if a board-certified and licensed mental health professional diagnosed the worker with the illness. In addition, the legislation would provide benefits for mental or emotional impairment resulting from using or being subjected to deadly force.

First responders and other supporters of the legislation say it is necessary to fill an existing gap in coverage. The General Assembly approved a private charitable fund to pay for mental health treatment for workers affected by the Sandy Hook school shooting, but some declare a permanent solution is needed, including AFSCME Council 15, a union that represents police officers who responded to the Newtown tragedy.

In fact, in mid-April, the charitable fund contained only $21,000 according to the AP, and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities stated the cost of one claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, could be at least several hundred thousand dollars. However, the Conference of Municipalities' position is health insurance, employee assistance programs and disability leave should be used instead of workers' compensation to cover mental and emotional impairments experienced by first responders.

Making a claim for workers' compensation can become complicated, especially following a traumatic event. If you were hurt at work or have developed a work-related disease, contact a knowledgeable workers' compensation attorney for more information.