WAUSAU (WAOW) – Studies show more first responders are dying from suicide than in the line of duty.
Some Wisconsin lawmakers, however, are working to put a stop to that trend by proposing a new bill that would give first responders in the state easier access to PTSD.
Area first responders believe it’s a nationwide mental health crisis that needs to be addressed and, often times, when they seek mental health help, it’s money out of their pocket.
When duty calls, they rush to help you, but we never know how they are doing when they come back from that call.
“In our trade, it’s not a single incident. It’s maybe accumulation over a long period of time,” said deputy chief Robert Barteck of Wausau Fire Department.
Nationwide, a Ruderman Family study showed 103 firefighters died by suicide in 2017 while 93 died in the line of duty in that same year. The study shows a similar trend for police officers. According to the study, 140 officers took their own lives while 129 died in the line of duty.
“Our opportunities to tap the brakes on the work and let’s talk about our mental health and how everyone’s coping. Typically we will bring in a critical assessment team,” Chief Barteck said.
Wausau Police Department said the public should understand they see things that average citizens never have to deal with and they said it all comes down to workers’ compensation.
“Being involved in things like an officer-involved shooting is considered normal and customary for our jobs, and worker’s comp will not cover mental health care,” said deputy chief Matt Barnes of the Wausau Police Department.
He emphasized mental health is just as important as being sure our first responders are physically fit for duty.
“If an officer goes and breaks their leg, it’s worker’s comp and an officer who goes out and shoots someone and they aren’t coping well — that is an injury to their brain,” Barnes said.
The new proposed bill would allow first responders to file a workers comp claim stating their PTSD is service-related.
Sen. Andre Jacque (R- De Pere) introduced the bill. In a statement to News 9 he said :
“The Public Safety PTSD Coverage Act will help Wisconsin’s first responders finally receive the help necessary to heal properly from the traumatic events they experience all too frequently while protecting our communities. Suicide rates for first responders suffering from PTSD now outpace on-duty deaths. The Public Safety PTSD Coverage Act clarifies a decades-old court case to transform what has been an impossible standard into a realistic one.
Sen. Jacque introduced a similar bill in the 2018 session but it failed. He said that was due to lack of support from the worker’s comp advisory council.
This year, he said the council supports the bill because he added a provision that workers comp only applies if a licensed mental health professional can provide the PTSD diagnosis and link it to the job.
The bill is scheduled for a public hearing on Dec. 10.
The Wausau Police Department said if an officer wants to get mental health help, it often comes down to the expense of the officer.
In the meantime, they have support programs and nine chaplians available for the department.