First responders with post-traumatic stress disorder will no longer have to prove their condition is a result of their job under legislation introduced Wednesday by the province’s labour minister.
The proposed changes to the Workers Compensation Act recognize PTSD and other mental disorders as work-related hazards for first responders, making it easier for them to get compensation from WorkSafe B.C. The mental-disorder presumption will apply to firefighters, police officers, paramedics, sheriffs and correctional officers.
“First responders, sheriffs and both provincial and federal correctional officers who experience trauma on the job and are diagnosed with a mental disorder, should not have the added stress of having to prove that their disorder is work related, in order to receive support and compensation,” Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a statement.
“This proposed change ensures that when the people who protect us need support, B.C.’s workers’ compensation system supports them to ensure a full recovery.”
It’s a change former Victoria paramedic Lisa Jennings has been advocating for years.
In 2015, after going public with her struggle with PTSD, Jennings launched an email campaign encouraging first responders with PTSD to write their MLAs and push for legislation changes.
After hearing from first responders all over the country dealing with PTSD, Jennings launched the website You Are Not Alone PTSD B.C. as a resource and support network. She also uses the website to track the number of first responders who have died by suicide.
Bains called Jennings on Tuesday to tell her he was introducing the amendments.
Jennings said she was overcome with emotion.
“Everyone needs to know that what we endure is real,” she said. “I don’t want one more life lost.”
Currently, first responders must jump through “arduous hoops” of proving they have a mental injury, Jennings said, a process that can re-traumatize someone.
Jennings’ WorkSafe B.C. claim was denied three times. That was overturned in 2017 by WorkSafe B.C.’s appeal tribunal.
As Jennings was waiting to receive compensation, she could not afford to pay rent and was forced to live in her car.
Jennings also wants to see the presumptive clause apply to retired first responders.
“We can leave the job but the job doesn’t leave us,” she said.
The Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C., the union that represents the province’s paramedics, welcomed the new legislation.
The union pointed to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry which found that public safety personnel, which includes paramedics, police, firefighters, dispatchers and correction officers, are four times more likely than the general population to screen positive for clinically significant symptoms consistent with one or more mental disorders.
The union is concerned the new legislation does not cover 911 dispatchers or call-takers.
“Dispatchers and call-takers are often the first person exposed to trauma and tragedy when they receive a 911 call,” union president Cameron Eby said in a statement. “They are the first, first responders, who have to manage extremely challenging situations while remaining calm and professional.”
Bains told the Times Colonist he acknowledged that dispatchers, emergency room nurses and doctors are often exposed to trauma but said more research needs to be done before these occupations are covered under presumptive disability provisions.
Municipal firefighters with certain types of cancers are covered under a presumptive disability clause, and the amended Workers Compensation Act will extend those benefits to federal firefighters on military bases.