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Viewpoint: PTSD is a workplace reality for first responders

Law enforcement, fire fighters, paramedics and other public safety officials are faced daily with the worst situations imaginable. Most people are lucky. They might encounter something horrific once in their life, if at all. But these public safety professionals are being called to tragic scenes multiple times a day. Such experiences can leave lasting effects if not treated properly.

That's why I introduced legislation to make post traumatic stress disorder a workplace illness for first responders. This legislation will help our public safety officials obtain workers' compensation benefits that have been denied in the past.

It is not easy to be diagnosed with PTSD. However, the evidence is beyond clear that PTSD is directly linked to the type of trauma that some of these heroes have been seeing every day for many years.

Over the last year, we've worked hard to bring people together to demonstrate the need for this legislation. It is my understanding the main obstacle to this legislation was the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, who essentially "killed" the bill.

But that didn't stop me. Recently, during a Senate debate on workers' compensation, I offered an amendment to include a provision to ensure PTSD would be classified as a presumptive injury, much in the same way a heart attack or cancer is. A few senators expressed concern with the process, claiming I didn't go through the proper process of vetting the idea, but I pushed back. I not only went through the proper process, but I know how important this issue is to those who work in the field. In the end, I convinced the body to support my amendment. Eventually, senators from both parties spoke in favor of taking care of these workers and the amendment passed unanimously.

Unfortunately, corporate interests at the Capitol are working against police officers, firefighters and other public safety officers. They don't want provisions like this because they believe it might add costs. If, however, we make PTSD an illness that we presume you can get from being a firefighter or a police officer, the costs would be dispersed across the state and would not be at all prohibitive. Additionally, even though the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce does not employ law enforcement or firefighters, they are worried that this "presumption" of illness could be assumed to private sector employees that their business members do employ.

This common-sense change has caused quite a stir and it's all because the chamber appears to not want one more cent paid to those who deserve to be taken care of, despite being injured in the line of duty. Now the bill is waiting in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

If you're in law enforcement, a firefighter, paramedic, public safety dispatcher or you know and love one, call your legislators and tell them it's time to take care of the people who we call on to handle the situations we can't handle.

Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, represents Minnesota Senate District 54.

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