AUSTIN — As he stood in a briefing room with a wooden seal of the State of Texas behind him, key leaders from first responder organizations flanked both sides of Representative John Wray. In just his second term representing the 10th House District of Texas, Wray stated has already identified a flawed healthcare system and his filing of House Bill 1983 Thursday morning is attempting to reconstruct the systematic approach to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
HB 1983 is proposed legislation that extends workers compensation and insurance coverage to police officers and firefighters who suffer from work-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Although he did not speak for long, Wray used his words to quickly paint a picture that he said is all too typical for first responders.
"We have all heard horrific news stories regarding the loss of life that touch us deeply. Frequently, these stories involve multiple fatalities and, perhaps, the loss of the life of children, who are the most innocent among us," said Wray in his opening remarks. "When I have heard these stories, I pause to remember that police officers and firefighters are our first responders. They are first to arrive at the scenes — scenes of devastating accidents and ferocious crimes. Sometimes these first responders arrive to an active crime scene where they become witnesses to some of the most heinous acts imaginable. Pause for a moment and consider the impact these acts can have on those police officers and firefighters. But being the first to respond is part of their job. It is part of what we ask them to do.”
Wray continued by recounting the July 7 tragedy in Dallas that left five police officers dead and nine others wounded. He added that, while the Dallas shooting was an extreme example, it is events or scenes like those that put first responders in danger of suffering from PTSD. What most do not realize, Wray stated, is that first responders do not currently have access to affordable options to deal with the symptoms of the disorder.
“This bill is designed to allow first responders to receive treatment for PTSD that they may experience as part of their service at these exceptionally disturbing scenes," Wray said. "[…] PTSD can destroy careers, family relationships, and the lives of those impacted. With proper treatment, our first responders have the opportunity to recover and continue their careers and return to a piece of mind in their personal lives.”
According to Wray, the only way for a first responder to currently receive treatment for PTSD is to claim mental impairment, which he noted could be grounds for dismal from their jobs and potentially carries a negative stigma. The legislation, if passed, will allow for the first responder to receive the treatment for PTSD needed and allow him or her to return to the workplace without the negative stigma.
“Protecting the mental health of our men and women in uniform is as critical as guaranteeing their safety and ability to their jobs," he added. "For years we have provided the necessary equipment to protect them from physical harm, but now we must provide them with the resources to protect them from mental harm.”
John Riddle, president of the Texas Association of Firefighters, was the first of the six supporters present during the press conference streamed over the internet to speak after Wray’s opening remarks. After he had thanked Rep. Wray for filing the bill, Riddle explained that Texas firefighters appreciate the efforts for making PTSD part of their worker's compensation package.
“Firefighters, now, face PTSD breaks similar to that of military personnel returning from combat,” Riddle said. “This legislation will play a very import role and a very important part in addressing the PTSD issue in the fire service.”
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of Texas Municipal Police Association, said his organization also applauded the efforts of Wray. He explained that if a first responder needs help with PTSD now, he or she would have a co-pay or large deductible to pay out of pocket.
“With our healthcare system doing what they are doing, more and more employers are going to the high-deductible paying system, it is becoming more and more costly for these people, and many of them aren’t being paid well to start with," Lawrence said. "This bill is critical to the health and safety of our first responders.”
HB 1983 is one of 22 bills Wray has filed during the 85th Texas Legislature and will wait its turn being heard before a House committee. If approved, it will then make its way to the legislature floor for final vote.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith