Florida first responders, families push for passage of PTSD workers' comp bill

By: Shannon Butler

Updated:

TALLAHASSEE - Florida first responders and their families were in Tallahassee Tuesday to push for a stalled bill that would allow workers' compensation claims for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bill was filed earlier in 2017 but was just passed by the Banking and Insurance Committee Tuesday.

Cocoa firefighter Josh Vandergrift was one of those who testified before the committee Tuesday, recalling a response that left him with serious mental scars.

“In the summer of 2016, I ran the worst call of my life,” he said, referring to a crash reported not far from his fire station.

Instead of being a standard emergency call, Vandergrift found that the person who was hit, and later died, was his brother.

“Ever since then, I have tried to get help,” Vandergrift said. “I was denied work comp, I was denied short-term disability, I was denied long-term disability. I had to pay out of my own pocket for treatment.

Easier access to treatment will save lives, Vandergrift argued.

“PTSD is a parasite in the brain,” he said. “If it is not taken care of, controlled, it grows and it eats and eats your brain, and that’s why a lot of suicides occur with first responders.”

While first responders across the state have expressed support for the bill, the Florida League of Cities opposes it, citing a concern about workers' compensation fraud and the cost.

A firefighter and police officer from Orlando who both responded to the Pulse nightclub attack in 2016, also testified Tuesday, saying the latest data shows firefighters are three times more likely to take their own lives than die in the line of duty.

A financial analysis of the bill was done, but a concrete cost could not be determined because there were too many factors to consider, officials said.

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