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Pa. House passes bill covering post-traumatic stress injuries for first responders

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John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 8, 2024

State Rep. Jen O’Mara (D-Delaware) said Wednesday she never would have imagined this moment, given her personal story. Her father, a Philadelphia firefighter, died by suicide in 2003.

Following several personal and emotional speeches, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill that would cover post-traumatic stress injuries for first responders under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. 

O’Mara, prime sponsor of House Bill 1632, thanked leadership and fellow co-sponsors for working alongside her on the legislation. 

She highlighted stories her father would tell her about work, saying the legislation attempts to correct a wrong for first responders in the state, while also providing protections for municipalities and employers.

“I can obviously recognize that I cannot say for sure that having this bill in law in 2003 would have saved my dad’s life. But I can certainly say it will save someone else’s,” O’Mara said. “Our first responders are heroes, but they are not superheroes.”

“And they don’t ask us for a lot,” she added. “This is what they’re asking us for.”

O’Mara said that the courts determined in the 1990s that first responders could not receive workers’ compensation for post-traumatic stress injuries or mental health issues. The legislation would amend the Workers’ Compensation Act to remove a roadblock that prevents first responders’ post-traumatic stress injuries from being recognized as eligible claims for workers’ compensation, according to a co-sponsorship memo.

The bill passed by a 154-46 vote.

Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny) detailed his personal struggle when he was a firefighter. He talked about losing sleep and needing help after responding to an emergency call on Mother’s Day as a firefighter, when a three year-old died. Miller said he received the help he needed after encouragement from his wife and platoon chief and that many first responders are in need of help as a result of the trauma of the job. 

Here’s the information you need. Firefighters are dying in Pennsylvania and you can help them. Emergency responders are dying in Pennsylvania and you can help,” Miller said. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go, this should be a unanimous vote.”

State Rep. Craig Williams (R-Delaware), a retired Marine Corps Colonel, spoke about the culture of serving in the military and said how “suck it up doesn’t work.” He said that attitude has resulted in veterans dying by suicide and from opioid addiction. He also shared a story about his son, who was a youth volunteer firefighter, being shaken up after responding to a call which resulted in a death scene. 

“In that moment, I saw him change,” Williams said. 

Following this experience, Williams mentioned the conversation he had with his son and one of his best friends who had been through trauma as a first responder. 

“You don’t have to suck it up,” Williams said. “We’re in this together.”

According to a news release from O’Mara’s office, Pennsylvania would be the 26th state to provide workers’ compensation benefits to first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress injuries.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.