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Vermont First Responders Gain Workers’ Compensation for Mental Health Issues

Gerry Dumke
Posted on: July 11, 2017 by Gerry Dumke

In an unprecedented decision, a recent piece of legislation from the state of Vermont has granted the state’s first responders with workers’ compensation coverage for mental health issues and illnesses incurred as a result of work. The law, which entered effect on July 1st, overturned an earlier Vermont Supreme Court ruling that previously prohibited first responders from receiving workers’ compensation coverage for mental health maladies – including post-traumatic stress disorder – unless they were found to be connected to a physical injury incurred on the job.

Vermont is the first state in the United States to explicitly cover mental health issues under workers’ compensation. While some states cover mental health to a degree, it is very difficult to receive compensation unless the worker can prove that his or her injury or illness occurred as a result of work, which is near-impossible to do for mental health issues. In California, for example, employees can receive compensation for mental illnesses, but they must be diagnosed mental disorders and must have caused the employee to become disabled or require medical treatment.

Earlier this year, a survey published by the University of Phoenix surveyed 2,000 adults who were employed as first responders, including nurses, paramedics, EMTs, police officers, and firefighters, and revealed that in addition to being in high-stress careers, many of these professionals feel that there is a stigma surrounding mental health in their industries. In the survey:

  • 85% of first responders said that they have symptoms related to mental health issues,
  • 84% said that they have experienced something traumatic while working,
  • 27% have been diagnosed with depression,
  • 10% have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder,
  • 69% have experienced a lack of sleep,
  • 46% have experienced anxiety.

In addition to the answers above, many first responders feel that there is a stigma surrounding mental health in their respective industries.

  • 39% of respondents said that there are negative consequences for seeking mental health treatment at work; 55% of those respondents said that they would be treated differently at work for inquiring about mental health issues, 45% were concerned about being perceived as “weak”, and 34% felt that discussing mental health issues would prevent them from getting promotions.
  • 74% stated that mental health services were available at their workplace, but 69% stated that said services were rarely or never used.

In an official statement, Rebecca Kelley, the spokeswoman of Vermont governor Phil Scott (who signed the bill into law), stated, “While the governor and his administration raised concerned about potential unintended impacts, to workers’ compensation insurance in Vermont, he trusts the Legislature fully evaluated the effects of this new policy and ultimately signed it in support of the effort to protect our first responders.”

Scott was not the only one to think about this unprecedented law’s effects on workers’ compensation going forward; the bill was opposed by lobbyists from Vermont’s insurance carriers, Department of Labor, and League of Towns and Cities, who felt that the legislation would raise workers’ compensation premiums.

This new bill could have a number of effects on workers’ compensation going forward. The bill’s Joint Fiscal Office estimated that the bill would not cost anything in the next fiscal year and cost no more than $126,000 in the 2019 fiscal year. While the legislation could increase premiums, it could also increase productivity by providing care to employees who may need it and increase employee happiness. Depending on the success of this bill and developments in mental health awareness, we could see other states following suit, as well as the coverage extending to other high-stress careers such as military officers and airline pilots.

Caitlin Morgan provides a selection of Workers’ Compensation solutions for a wide range of businesses and can assist you in placing coverage. For more information about our workers’ comp solutions, contact us at 317.575.4440.

Posted in: blog Workers Comp Workers Compensation