SC Senators Seek Help for First Responders with PTSD

A bipartisan group of South Carolina Senators are pushing to have a bill passed that would give workers’ compensation for first responders that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder relating to on-the-job experiences.

Our lowcountry first responders include EMS and firefighters that are typically the first to arrive on the scene of gruesome and tragic accidents. “If you believe PTSD is real, then we need to be properly taking care of those that are taking care of us,” said Senator Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, lead sponsor of the bill, S. 429.

As it stands now, compensation for first responders is only deemed appropriate when the situation is considered extreme or unusual. Firefighters respond to accidents where people are severely burned, sometimes even resulting in death. EMS responds to any and everything relating to a medical emergency. Again, this would seem to fit the description of “extreme” or “unusual” circumstances.

However, since first responders are required to complete specific training relating to these events, some feel as if they are immune to such tragedies because they are expected work in this type of atmosphere. When EMS arrives on a scene where someone has committed suicide or been decapitated in a wreck, what possible training could have prepared them for that? Currently, PTSD is not covered under workers’ compensation.

George Aytes, a retired Charleston fireman, plead with members of the Senate committee after describing the aftermath of the Sofa Super Store fire of 2007. Aytes was one of the first responders to the scene who luckily survived.

“The day came when I was heading to the hunting club to stop the nightmares,” he said.

Aytes eventually told members of the Senate that he had planned to take his own life after dealing with PTSD after losing 9 of his fellow fire fighters in that horrendous fire 8 years ago.

Under workers’ compensation laws, employees with broken bones, torn ligaments, and bulging discs that sometimes heal within a year, are entitled to certain benefits. PTSD may not be a physical injury one can see, but can last for a lifetime if not treated.

In Richland County, a police officer mistakenly shot someone — who he thought was reaching for a gun — because he was struggling with PTSD. With the proper PTSD treatment, this accident could have potentially been avoided. Sen. Paul Thurmond believes that the choice is now up to the public to decide whether they want to pay now or pay later, which could be too late for many.

If the bill is passed, workers’ compensation would offer treatment and proper counseling tailored for those suffering from PTSD. The bill is now on the Senate’s contested calendar in hopes of being passed before Legislature takes their break in about 2 weeks.

At this point, the chairman of the committee hasn’t shown positive support for the proposed bill.

Updated on December 12, 2019

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