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Workers’ Compensation and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop in people after they experience a very stressful, scary or distressing event. Since mental health disorders can significantly impact someone’s ability to work, employees diagnosed with PTSD from a work-related cause may look to file a workers’ compensation (WC) claim to receive coverage for associated medical bills and lost wages. While PTSD has long been an occupational issue – particularly among first responders – the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the potential for workers to contract PTSD from their employment, especially in the health care field.

This article discusses the signs of PTSD, how state legislatures are handling eligibility for WC benefits for PTSD and how employers can support employees suffering from mental health issues.

Signs of PTSD

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age, and according to the National Center for PTSD, about 6 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives. To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms in adults generally must last for more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships, work or other components of daily life. While symptoms of PTSD typically begin within three months of a traumatic incident, they can sometimes begin years later. The duration of the illness varies by individual and, in some cases, can become chronic.

Some signs of PTSD include:

State Legislation

WC benefits eligibility requirements for PTSD vary between states. The pandemic has accelerated the rate at which many state legislatures have been considering establishing or expanding for WC benefits to those suffering from work-related PTSD. However, since it can be difficult to objectively measure mental health conditions or prove they were caused by employment, obtaining WC benefits can be an uphill battle for workers in some instances. WC benefits are more likely to be rewarded if:

Jurisdiction may operate under one of three standards regarding psychological and mental injuries, each carrying its own burden of proof. These standards are:

As health care workers and first responders continue to carry a heavy burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, states are passing legislation to protect their well-being under the mental/mental standard. Eligibility requirements for receiving PTSD-related WC benefits are expanding, so certain occupational groups may see an impact on overall WC costs.

Employer Support

To minimize the number of WC claims, employers should proactively minimize psychiatric stress while providing support to employees who suffer from mental health issues. Since employees may choose not to divulge their mental concerns to their employers, it’s important for employers to have the resources available to anyone who may need them. Employers should cultivate a work climate and culture that supports and encourages help-seeking behavior, including treatment for mental health conditions. Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing an employee with PTSD, employers must remain flexible and be open to feedback. They should be sure to:

Since PTSD can have serious medical, psychological and emotional consequences, seeking the advice of a qualified professional may be necessary. For more information on WC benefits, contact us today.

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