Legislation to extend Workers’ Compensation benefits to Idaho First Responders suffering from psychological injuries is heading to the Senate Floor. Senate Bill 1028, sponsored by House Democratic Leader Mat Erpelding, passed through the Senate Committee on Commerce and Human Resources Thursday afternoon unanimously.
“Our First Responders have dangerous jobs and should be treated for the mental injuries so many of them sustain,” Erpelding said. “Most of us will never understand the trauma and stress that police, fire and EMT’s go through every day. We owe it to the men and women on the front lines to fix this issue in the Workers’ Compensation rules.”
Under current law, Idaho First Responders are not covered for psychological injuries unless there is an accompanying physical injury.
When many of us go to work, we might expect to deal with stress from a piled-up inbox or a paper cut-- at worst. But when first responders go to work, "they see things that we would only see in our nightmares," said Erpelding.
"We responded to an incident where a roommate had murdered his two roommates with a-- with a hatchet. And so just walking into that scene with the amount of, ya know, just blood that was all over the ground, all over the walls, all over the ceiling," said Cpl. John Parsons, Nampa Police Department.
In a separate incident, as I reported Thursday, Cpl. Parsons was shot in the face while serving an arrest warrant in 2010. After healing physically, he says he would sometimes felt symptoms of P.T.S.D. when he was on or near a staircase.
"As police officers, we always try to put on this face that, ya know nothing bothers us. Um, ya know, 'We're tough, we can get through it.' But ultimately-- it does affect ya."
A recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that first responders, including police officers and firefighters, are now more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
"We believe it has to do with the job and what they're doing," said Cpl. Parsons.
But when it comes to filing worker's compensation, Idaho doesn't cover that. Opponents traditionally express concern for added taxpayer dollars going towards treatments.
Currently in Idaho, first responders can only file a workers comp claim for a psychological injury if they also got a corresponding physical injury.
Rep. Erpolding and other bipartisan lawmakers are looking to change that.
"Two days ago we introduced it in Committee, in the Senate, Commerce, and Human Resources Committee, and we have an agreement from a chairman to receive a full hearing," said Erpelding.
He says he hopes that will send it to the Aenate floor for a vote and then it would come back over to the house.
"That therapeutic treatment helps keep them actually in the workplace, which saves the state money, and makes it so that our senior lifesavers-- those people who do the most for us, are able to stay on the job, job long-term," said Erpelding.