Cumulative Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Police Officers

Several police officers stand in a line, all giving their attention in unison.

As of January 1, 2019, a new law has gone into effect that may drastically change the way work-related PTSD claims are handled in Minnesota. For PTSD injuries that occur on or after January 1, 2019, there is now a presumption for first responders that their PTSD is work-related. A first responder’s PTSD still must meet the criteria set forth in the DSM-V and be diagnosed by a doctor of psychology or a medical doctor working in a related field. The covered “first responder” positions include licensed police officers, sheriff’s deputy, state trooper, firefighter, paramedic, emergency medical technician, corrections officer and many more.

If you fall under one of these covered positions, and you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, this presumption will apply if: 1) you were on active duty, 2) you do not have a previous PTSD diagnosis, and 3) your PTSD injury was claimed on or after January 1, 2019.

We recognize that the culture within law enforcement often discourages police officers from seeking help for symptoms of PTSD, and despite the law change, insurance companies are still denying PTSD claims. Meuser Law Office, P.A. however, has had extraordinary success in establishing entitlement to workers’ compensation and PERA/MSRS Duty Disability benefits for police officers suffering from PTSD.

Ten years ago, many people had never heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Today most people associate PTSD with soldiers, who often suffer from the effects of PTSD from a single traumatic incident or exposure in the line of duty. What this means is when you ask a soldier the cause of his or her PTSD, they can usually point to a single incident or set of incidents that sparked the onset of their PTSD symptoms. This is not the case for Minnesota police officers. Many times, PTSD symptoms manifest over the course of time as a result of multiple traumatic experiences, and it is difficult to point to just one incident as the inciting event.

What Causes PTSD?

Many events can cause PTSD in police officers, such as shootings or “shots fired” calls, motor vehicle collisions involving fatalities or severe injuries, hostage situations, dangerous drug busts, domestic dispute calls, child abuse investigations, or any other situation that involves exposure to serious injury or death. There is no rhyme or reason for why one person develops PTSD and another does not. There is also no reason why one particular event “causes” PTSD while another, perhaps more traumatic event, does not. With police officers, PTSD many times occurs as a result of a build-up of events that arise throughout an officer’s career.

The Workers Compensation Act recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder as a compensable injury as of October 1, 2013 and defines PTSD by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V). The DSM-V specifically describes the types of incidents that are required for a PTSD diagnosis. These incidents include exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in on or more of the following ways:

1. Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).

2. Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others.

3. Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family members or close friend.

4. Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s).

The DSM-V provides an example for #4 above, citing to first responders who collect human remains or police officers exposed to details of child abuse.

Other stressful situations may also contribute to an officer’s overall deterioration in mental health, including long hours, politics within the police department, not knowing what the next call will be or when it will come in, and handling the attitudes of others. In addition, officers are often times criticized and investigated for the decisions they have to make within a split second. While this likely contributes to an officer’s mental condition, factors such as these “work stress factors” are not events that lead to PTSD.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

There are many symptoms of PTSD. A common symptom witnessed in most of our Meuser Law Office, P.A.clients is their report of having irritable behavior or angry outbursts with little to no provocation. This makes sense since PTSD inhibits one’s ability to appropriately handle stress. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most stress you’ve ever had in your life and zero being no stress, a person with PTSD may rate going to the mall or grocery store at a 7 when a person without PTSD may rate it as a 1 or a 2.

Here are other signs and symptoms to watch for:

• Irritability or frequent anger
• Withdrawal from family and friends
• Emotional outbursts
• Suspicion or paranoia
• Risk taking behaviors such as excessive drinking, drug use or risky sexual behaviors
• Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
• Anxiety or panic feelings
• Guilt
• Nightmares
• Panic attacks
• Intrusive thoughts
• Avoiding people or places
• Easily distracted
• Lack of concentration
• Fatigue
• Recurring thoughts
• Flashbacks
• Judgment errors
• Sweating, trembling or shaking
• Negative beliefs about yourself
• Inability to feel positive emotions
• Hyper-vigilance
• Exaggerated startle response

It is important to remember that 10 – 30 percent of first responders will develop PTSD in the course of their career. These injuries can be just as serious and dangerous as physical injuries and should be taken seriously. Early intervention in the form of therapy and/or prescription medication is likely the single best thing you can do for a PTSD diagnosis. There is no one answer for everyone. What may work for one person in terms of treatment may not work for you. However, the faster you seek assistance for your post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, the greater the chance you have of making a rapid and full recovery.

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, there are benefits available for Minnesota police officers and first responders who develop PTSD on the job. These benefits include wage loss, rehabilitation, and medical care and treatment. If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD due to a work-related accident or traumatic incident, you should consult with an attorney experienced in this area of the law. At Meuser Law Office, P.A., we have represented many clients with PTSD, including police officers, firefighters, first responders and correctional officers. We understand this nuanced area of the law and work with our client to ensure you receive the full benefits you are entitled. Contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a no-obligation consultation today. Don’t let the insurance company unfairly deny you benefits as a result of their misinterpretation of the law surrounding PTSD in Minnesota. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.