In recent years, the state of California has been ravaged with wildfires, leaving many firefighters and first responders to not only battle the flames but to contend with post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath. Now, Governor Newsom has signed a package of three bills that could provide greater mental health support for these brave individuals — and make it easier for them to be granted workers’ compensation.
Roughly a year after California experienced its worst wildfire in the state’s history, Gov. Newsom has signed a trio of bills that will provide some much-needed support through a statewide peer network, as well as prevent public agencies from contracting out their emergency services to private, for-profit companies. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, one of the bills will add PTSD as an eligible injury for workers’ compensation claims, allowing firefighters and first responders to recover from related mental health issues due to the challenging responsibilities of their day-to-day lives. Although workers’ compensation reforms made it more difficult for employees to obtain both medical treatment and benefits back in 2004, this move shows how seriously the state is about improving wellness for these workers.
Said Newsom in a recent statement, “The job of firefighters and first responders can be very rewarding, but at the same time, extremely unpredictable. They can experience high-stress situations and traumatic incidents that can push them to the limit both physically and mentally, and we need to recognize and take those challenges head on.”
Not surprisingly, the new laws received substantial support from law enforcement, mental health advocates, unions, and fellow firefighters all across the state — and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and California Professional Firefighters acted as co-sponsors. According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, suicides among firefighters and first responders are now outpacing on-duty fatalities, which means that more needs to be done after these events to promote safety and well-being.
State Senator and bill author Henry Stern explained in a statement, “Every day, we ask firefighters and law enforcement officers to run into flames and gunfire — but too often, when the weight of these traumas becomes too much for these heroes to bear, we turn a blind eye to their struggles. Today, California is making clear that post-traumatic stress is not a disorder to be stigmatized. These injuries can be healed.”
While the wildfires may continue, thanks in part to climate change, experts are hopeful that these new laws will at least allow those who save lives to prioritize their own once the immediate danger has passed.