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Lawmakers Advance Bill Providing Benefits For First Responders With PTSD

Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, holds up a framed photograph of Chris Coleman, a Huntington firefighter who died by suicide. Lovejoy was speaking about a bill to give compensation benefits to first responders dealing with PTSD.

A bill granting compensation benefits to first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) passed the West Virginia House of Delegates unanimously Friday.

House Bill 2321 from Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, moves on to the Senate for consideration. It applies to law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency management technicians and paramedics who were diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed professional for an incident that occurred at work. 

By PTSD, the bill is referring to a disorder affecting those who can’t shake mental and physical responses to a shocking or traumatic event, even after it’s over. 

“Because first responders are required to expose themselves to post-traumatic stress disorder causing events during the course of their employment, and because of the severe nature and deliberative effect of post-traumatic stress disorder, it is the moral obligation of the state to provide coverage to this class of individuals for their work-related injury,” the bill states. 

Before the House’s vote, Lovejoy recalled testimony that members of the House Judiciary Committee heard on Monday from Bob Coleman, whose son Chris, a Huntington firefighter with PTSD, died by suicide.

“Problem is, you get no paid time off for this condition,” Lovejoy told the full House, while showing a framed photograph of Chris. “So, he used up sick time. He used his vacation time, and though he still wasn't ready to go back, he had to make a choice. Do I continue to stay off work and get better?”

Or, Lovejoy asked while showing a picture of Chris’s daughter, would Chris go back to work to provide for his family?

“That's a choice he shouldn't have to make,” Lovejoy said. “He went back to work. He went back to work too soon.”

Chris died weeks later. Lovejoy said Chris’s story and others show “very clearly the need for paid time off, which is what this bill gives.”

The bill also calls for a joint committee on Volunteer Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services to meet later this year to discuss the effectiveness of the legislation and make adjustments as necessary.

If you or someone who know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255, or go to their website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.


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