Watch CBS News

Pennsylvania lawmakers want to allow first responders to file PTSD claims

Breaking the stigma around mental health in first responders
Breaking the stigma around mental health in first responders 02:23

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A new push to break the stigma around mental health just expanded to first responders in Pennsylvania.

Firefighters aren't just responding to fires anymore. They're going out on all sorts of calls. But because of a court decision, firefighters say they're not able to access the care they need for their mental health.

State Rep. Jennifer O'Mara said this is personal. 

"My dad was a firefighter in Philadelphia," state Rep. Jennifer O'Mara said. "And he died by suicide in 2003, about 30 minutes after returning home from a shift."

That's why she is now pushing to amend the state's workers' compensation law to allow first responders to file claims for post-traumatic stress injuries they get on the job. 

"If you have PTSD, you're six times more likely to attempt suicide or complete a suicide," O'Mara said. "And to me, we need to address the root cause of the problem, which is untreated trauma."

Tim Leech, vice president of Pittsburgh Firefighters IAFF Local No. 1, said if a tragedy like a mass shooting happens at your work, you could file a workers' comp claim, but first responders cannot. 

"The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court says that any mental health injury for a worker in Pennsylvania has to be caused by an abnormal working condition," Leech said. 

But it's normal for first responders to see traumatic things. State Sen. Camera Bartolotta said it's time to amend the law, allowing for claims and mental health help. 

"What really costs a small township, borough or municipality is losing a firefighter or a police officer to suicide," Bartolotta said. 

The firefighters KDKA-TV talked with in Hazelwood say this doesn't just benefit firefighters and first responders. It benefits the community because you want the first responders coming to your house or neighborhood to be in the right head space.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.