CHARLESTON — West Virginia Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, has reintroduced his bill to provide workers’ compensation benefits to first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s ready to take his name off the bill to get it passed.
House Bill 2051, co-sponsored by fellow District 17 Del. Matt Rohrbach, would provide workers’ compensation benefits to law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics if the diagnosis of PTSD is a result of an event or events on the job.
This is the fourth year in a row Lovejoy has introduced the legislation. Last year, the bill passed the House but died in the Senate. Then-Finance Committee chair Sen. Craig Blair, now Senate president, said at the time that his car crash had delayed his committee and as a result they ran out of time to fully vet the bill.
A version of the bill has also been introduced in the Senate this year, co-sponsored by all 11 Democratic senators. The bill is double referenced to the Banking and Insurance Committee and then the Finance Committee.
In the House, the bill is triple referenced, despite passing unanimously last year. With the supermajority of Republicans, Lovejoy said he is prepared to have his name off the bill if that will help get it passed.
Lovejoy swayed the House last year with the story of Huntington firefighter Chris Coleman, who died by suicide two weeks after returning to work after using up all his paid time off for PTSD treatment. His diagnosis came after responding to so many fatal drug overdoses, including a personal connection.
In a study published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, researchers found that EMS workers in the United States were about 10 times more likely to have suicidal ideations and/or attempt suicide compared to the CDC national average. Firefighters are also at higher risk for suicide, with one nationwide study finding 46% of firefighters had suicidal ideations.
For West Virginia first responders, the substance use disorder epidemic has made an already difficult job harder. And the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with fatal overdoses and deaths at home increasing in 2020.
Reporter Taylor Stuck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.