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First Responder PTSD Bill Advances to the Full West Virginia House of Delegates
February 17, 2020: A first responder PTSD bill advanced to the full House of Delegates after an unanimous voice vote from the House Judiciary Committee meeting this morning. House Bill 2321 provides that PTSD suffered by a first responder is a compensable injury "upon a diagnosis by a licensed psychiatrist that the first responder suffers from the disorder and upon a finding that the disorder occurred as a result of an event or events that occurred in the course of within the scope of the first responder's employment duties." HB 2321 modifies W. Va. Code § 23-4-1f which provided that mental-mental claims are not compensable in West Virginia. The current law states: "No alleged injury or disease shall be recognized as a compensable injury or disease which was solely caused by nonphysical means in which did not result in any physical injury or disease to the person claiming benefits." The proposed bill defines first responder as a law-enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic. PTSD is defined as a "disorder that meets the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder specified by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, or a later addition as adopted by rule of the insurance commissioner." The Legislature finds it is the moral obligation of the state to provide coverage to this class of individuals for their work-related injury because first responders are required "to expose themselves to post-traumatic stress disorder causing events" during the course of their employment, and because of "the severe nature and deliberative effect of post-traumatic stress disorder."
The Legislature may have meant to say PTSD is severe and can have a "debilitating effect" on those suffering from it. PTSD symptoms or diagnosis may not manifest immediately after an event, so noticeably lacking from the bill is criteria for determining whether the PTSD claim is an occupational injury or an occupational disease for the purpose of determine the statute limitations. As drafted, it appears the drafters believe PTSD is an injury because the disorder arises on the date of the event or events causing PTSD, which would trigger a six-month statute limitations for occupational injuries under W. Va. Code § 23-4-15(a). The longer three-year period for filing an occupational disease claim in W. Va. Code § 23-4-15(c) would not apply. If the PTSD does not manifest and a diagnosis is made within the six-month period after the triggering event, a first responder could be barred from filing a claim.
If you have questions or need more information, please call or e-mail Dill Battle at 304.340.3823 firstname.lastname@example.org
H. Dill Battle III, Esq.
Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC
300 Kanawha Boulevard, East
Charleston, WV 25301
304.340.3823 - office
304.340.3801 - fax