What have we learned, and what is the progress we have made toward helping those who help others?
As we remember and celebrate that fateful day, we should continue to celebrate and protect those who risk their lives to help others but who continue to live with the mental and emotional effects when faced with such tragic events encountered in responding to the call to serve.
In Nebraska, we have recognized that with tragic events come the effects to some who just can’t mentally and emotionally get past those events. We have garnered some protections for those first responders whose job it is to serve when emergency matters require it.
First responders have a specific definition as set forth in Nebraska Revised Statute 48-101.01, but essentially if a person serves as an officer, fireman or medical emergency personnel who is called to an emergency response situation, then that person has some workers’ compensation protections.
Personal injury now “includes mental injuries and mental illness unaccompanied by physical injury for an employee who is a first responder” if that person suffers from PTSD, depression, anxiety, mood disorder, panic attacks, reactionary diversion, neurotic disorder, etc.
One must establish “that the employee’s employment conditions causing the mental injury or mental illness were extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the normal conditions of the particular employment” in which they serve. What is usual is constantly being debated and disputed, but an event causing significant bodily injury or death is not usual in the eyes of the courts.
What is not covered or considered compensable are “mental injuries and mental illness arising out of and in the course of employment unaccompanied by physical injury … if they result from any event or series of events which are incidental to normal employer and employee relations, including, but not limited to, personnel actions by the employer such as disciplinary actions, work evaluations, transfers, promotions, demotions, salary reviews, terminations” or going through the legal process in unrelated matters.
Sometimes employers will retaliate against employees who claim work injuries. Though demotions, write-ups and post-injury terminations aren’t compensable through workers’ compensation, there could be a retaliation or disability discrimination claim. First responders who believe they might be being retaliated against should also reach out to the NAPE/AFSCME, IAFF or FOP representative immediately to help preserve their employment.
We have come a long way in the 15 years since 9-11 in providing protections and workers’ compensation coverage to first responders who make it their job to serve and protect. But what about those who were working and saw and experienced this tragedy who are not first responders? They continue to not be covered for their mental and emotional effects. On this anniversary date, as we remember those who served, we need to continue to fight for everyone who encounters tragic events in the course and scope of their employment and suffers mental illness or conditions, but do not suffer a physical injury. They need the protections workers’ compensation coverage can provide, just like first responders.