New bill will help recovery of firefighters and police officers

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Bossier City firefighters battles a blaze on Riverwood Drive in 2018. (Courtesy photo)

A bill by a state senator from Bossier City will help aid firefighters and police officers.

Senate Bill 107, introduced by Louisiana Sen. Ryan Gatti (R-Bossier City), adds post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, to the list of covered injuries under public employee benefits. This allows public personnel such as policemen, firefighters and first responders to seek coverage for their illness under Louisiana workers’ compensation. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, PTSD affects about 3.5 percent of adult Americans and that percentage is even higher for first responders.

“If PTSD is caught early enough, it is not disabling,” Sen. Gatti said in an emailed release. “So many of our policemen and firefighters are suffering from this illness and are not getting the treatment they need. This bill will allow them access to early professional help.”

SB107 received unanimous approval by both houses of the legislature and was signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 5.

“In the old days, we said ‘suck it up, buttercup’ and ‘man up,’ and that became not really a good coping skill to teach people,” Gatti said in a House committee meeting on May 16. “These are the guys that see things we should never see. They see death, they see burned up bodies, they see dead babies.”

State Sen. Ryan Gatti

Several public servants and employees testified about their mental health problems before members of the House Labor Committee.

“Our numbers are rising,” said Matt Kinney, a 19-year veteran and Bossier City Firefighter. “Our firefighters and police officers are dying. They don’t have the support or the means that they need.” 

Kinney pointed out the detrimental effects of not treating PTSD, including substance abuse and high divorce rates among firefighters. 

“We make thousands of runs a year and some of these are traumatic runs. We have to ‘suck it up’ and a lot of the firemen would (have substance abuse) just trying to cope,” Kinney revealed.

Autry Lowery, captain with Benton Fire Department, testified that he suffered from depression from experiences while on the fire department. 

“I’m here to let everyone know you can get treated. Now, I’m able to be the dad, the husband, and the firefighter I need to be because of the treatment I received,” Lowery said.

Chad Major, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of Louisiana said that this bill’s passage means that a first responder diagnosed with PTSD will have an expedited road to recovery.

“Over the last several years there have been more deaths by suicide amongst these professions than there have been deaths in the line of duty. In addition, divorce rates range between 70 to 80 percent in the first responder population. The effects of what these men and women see within the scope of their duties takes a psychological toll on each of them. They often see things that non-public safety people could never fathom,” Major said via an emailed release. “When one of these women or men get to the point that they cannot cope with the things that they have witnessed, and they are diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist or psychologist, their road to recovery will now be expedited so that they can learn the coping mechanisms to address their condition and subsequently assume a normal, healthy life and career.” 

Major also thanked Senator Gatti, saying he has been a constant champion for those who put their lives on the line for their fellow man. 

“Thank you Senator Gatti for being a man of God, and thank you for being an advocate for those of us who serve!”

Senator Gatti thanked those who handled and protected the bill as it traveled through each house of the legislature — Rep. Stagni, who handled the bill on the house floor and Rep. Tanner Magee for amending the bill to protect first responder rights, as well as Rep. Dodie Horton, Rep. Larry Bagely, Rep. Patrick Jefferson, Rep. Kenny Cox, and Rep. Barry Ivey, all of whom spoke on the house floor to protect the bill from adverse action. 

SB107 will become effective on Aug. 1, 2019. To view SB 107 and Senator Gatti’s other bills, please visit www.legis.la.gov.