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Minnesota now a leader in PTSD protections for 911 dispatchers

A new Minnesota law went into effect on January 1 making it easier for first responders to get workers’ compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder. We’re now one of a growing number of states presuming a PTSD diagnosis to be job-related in first responders unless proven otherwise.

What makes Minnesota’s law truly unusual is that it includes “public safety dispatcher” alongside police officer, firefighter and paramedic. Elsewhere in the U.S., it’s still difficult for dispatchers to receive worker’s comp for duty-related trauma, even in the few states where PTSD is presumptively covered for first responders.

Operators usually left out

Vermont was the first state in America to include PTSD in first responders like police and firefighters among the conditions for which employers and insurers bear the burden of proof if they want to deny coverage. Since then, about a dozen states have passed something similar.

But according to a recent article in Business Insurance, emergency dispatchers or operators are usually left out. Idaho’s new bill includes them and Florida’s bill includes workers who “witness” or “hear” a traumatic event.

Research shows 911 calls are tough on workers

A landmark 2012 study was the first to show the traumatic toll emergency telecommunications can take on employees. Researcher found standard symptoms of PTSD, namely avoidance, numbing, re-experiencing and hypervigilance, with the last being most common.

Its coauthor remembers a key trigger for the dispatchers she interviewed:

Definitely kid calls. When asked, “What is the worst call you have ever taken?” nearly a quarter of the participants reported an incident involving a child, regardless of whether it was the death of a child, child-related injuries, sexual assault of a child, etc. [ … ] Certainly, those calls involving kids would be the types of calls where follow-up with the telecommunicator is warranted.

The new Minnesota law provides for presumptive workers’ comp coverage for dispatchers diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist or psychologist after January 1.

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