COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - A bill that would help first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) is closer to becoming law in South Carolina.
Unlike a physical injury, mental illnesses or mental injuries are not covered under workers’ compensation.
House bill 3939 will allow first responders like firefighters and law enforcement to receive workers compensation if diagnosed with a stress-related and mental illness caused by a traumatic event while on duty.
State Rep. Tommy Pope of York County introduced the bill. He’s a former law enforcement officer and prosecutor.
Pope said his initial proposal focused on PTSD stemming from deadly force incidents.
“From my experience in law enforcement, what often happens is several of us could be involved in the same incident, but it may affect you differently than it affects me,” Pope said. “Some people could go right on and some people can never be able to work again.”
Capt. John Evans with the Myrtle Beach Fire Department said the constant stress and trauma can take a major toll on first responders.
“Especially kids is one of those big things… when you go on a call with a child,” Evans said. “At the time it may not be anything, but when you have children it may be something that gets back to you later on.”
Charlie King, Executive Director of the S.C. State Firefighters Association, said there are programs like SC FAST for firefighters and SC LEAP for law enforcement that provide peer-to-peer mental health support, as well as cover clinical services.
However, the coverage is limited to $15,000. King said around 125 firefighters in the organization are utilizing clinical support through SC FAST. But hundreds more seek peer-to-peer support.
While the bill would provide more financial assistance, similar bills were unsuccessful in the past because of the possibility of being able to defraud or abuse the system.
Still, King believes it’s time to put a bigger emphasis on first responders’ mental well-being.
“It’s about people and making sure they’re healthy both at work and at home,” King said.
The bill passed the House last week. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.