One Ohio firefighter has been engaged in a struggle with Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), and that fight may be soon drawing to a close.
In the Cleveland suburb of Brook Park — in Cuyahoga County — Scott Stoltz has been serving as a fire fighter for more than ten years. Earlier this year, he was called to a motorcycle crash that reminded him of the motorcycle crash that had taken the life of his best friend.
The incident spurred Stoltz’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While he did not have a physical injury from the response to the crash, the PTSD was severe. For some weeks, he averaged less than two hours of sleep each night. He began to suffer from paranoia, hyper-vigilance, and irritability.
He was able to go on leave from work with the Brook Park Fire Department, and began to get therapy three days a week. However, he cannot file a claim for workers’ compensation, so none of his lost wages are covered — neither is his treatment and therapy.
According to Stoltz, the BWC does not see his PSTD as an injury or an illness, and therefore will not cover it.
In Stoltz’s case, he has spent more than $2,000 out of pocket for medical care costs, and he has used up all of his sick days and vacation days. His co-workers from the Brook Park Fire Department have given him some of their days to help out, but he has exhausted that supply of hours as well.
The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police has been trying to get PTSD covered as a standalone workers’ comp issue for the past eight years.
Last month, the Ohio Senate removed a proposal to cover first responders’ PTSD claims from their yearly BWC budget. In their July Senate approval, the two-year budget bill that passed does not recognize PTSD as an acquired, on-the-job condition for firefighters and police.
The state has more than 30,000 firefighters and police officers, and according to representatives for these first responders, there is no assistance they can receive for the extensive mental toll their jobs take on them.
Ohio’s BWC insures more than 240,000 public and private employers — 240,000 distinct companies — and in 2018, the BWC dealt with approximately 85,000 injury claims.
The state’s July passage of the BWC funding bill passed 71-13 in the House and 21-9 in the Senate. It is expected to be signed by Gov. Mike DeWine to cover the next two years of BWC coverage. Leaders in the state senate say that they will look at first responders’ PTSD coverage as a standalone measure later in 2019, but fire fighters and police representative are skeptical that lawmakers will honestly evaluate their needs.
The mental and emotional toll of such traumatic work — including seeing fatal accidents and dead bodies in the line of duty on a daily or weekly basis — is a significant part of the work that our police officers and firefighters do for us. Being able to support the health of these brave first responders and helping them to receive workers’ comp coverage for PTSD seems like an obvious issue to support. We hope that Ohio’s legislators are true to their promises, and vote to extend such benefits to first responders.