Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Police Officers

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

On January 1, 2019, a new law went into effect that may drastically change the way work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims are handled in Minnesota. For PTSD injuries that occur on or after January 1, 2019, there is a presumption for first responders that their PTSD is work-related.

The PTSD presumption applies to licensed police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, corrections officers and others. The 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.

As with all PTSD claims, a first responder must be diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist, in accordance with the DSM-V. But, even if the PTSD presumption does not apply to you, you can still bring a workers’ compensation claim for PTSD.

We recognize that the culture within law enforcement often discourages police officers from seeking help for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and despite the law change, insurance companies are still denying PTSD claims. Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, 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.

Today most people assume that PTSD results from a single traumatic incident or exposure in the line of duty. This is not always the case for Minnesota police officers. Many times, PTSD symptoms manifest over time as a result of multiple traumatic experiences, and it is difficult to point to just one incident as the triggering event.

What Causes PTSD?

Many events can cause PTSD, such as shootings or “shots fired” calls, motor vehicle collisions involving fatalities or severe injuries, suicide calls, 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 reason 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 often occurs as a result of multiple events during an officer’s career, rather than a single traumatic event.

DSM-V Criteria for PTSD

The Workers Compensation Act recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder, as defined by the DSM-V, as a compensable injury as of October 1, 2013. The DSM-V specifically describes the types of incidents that are required for a PTSD diagnosis. These “Criteria A” events include exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

Exposure to Criteria A events may occur in any 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 family member 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.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

There are many symptoms of PTSD. Signs and symptoms to be aware of may include:

  • Irritability or emotional outbursts
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Suspicion or paranoia
  • Risk taking behaviors
  • Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Guilt
  • Nightmares
  • 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

Between 10% and 30% of first responders will develop PTSD in the course of their career. Mental health injuries can be as dangerous as physical injuries and should be taken seriously. Early intervention (therapy and/or prescription medication) is important. There is no one answer for everyone. What may work for one person in terms of treatment may not work for you. However, the sooner you seek assistance, the greater the chance you have of 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 medical care and treatment, wage loss, permanency, and vocational rehabilitation. If you or someone you know suffers from work-related PTSD, consult with an attorney experienced in this area of law.

At Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, 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 clients to ensure they receive the full benefits they are entitled. Contact Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. for a no-obligation, confidential consultation today. Don’t let the insurance company unfairly deny you benefits. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.