Commentary: How Equitable is Florida’s New PTSD Coverage?

What Does Florida Have Against Teachers and Bartenders?

As I posted Monday [click here to view that post], a bill to extend relatively broad PTSD coverage to Florida’s first responders was passed unanimously by both state houses earlier in March. On Tuesday [March 27], Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law. While I am generally in favor of the amendment to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act, I’m left with the nagging question: “What does Florida have against teachers and bartenders?” The new PTSD coverage will not, of course, apply to those professions (or any others, for that matter) in spite of the fact that they may sometimes face the same sorts of shocking scenes as first responders. Moreover, unlike Florida’s first responders, teachers and bartenders generally receive no special training to help them deal with such horrific situations. Florida’s amendment confirms a thought that I’ve had for some time: “hot” issues often make for “bad” law.

New Law Reaction to Parkland School Shooting Horrors

Colleagues in Florida tell me the February 14, 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida was a crucial factor that helped tip the scales in favor of Florida’s new PTSD legislation. If that’s the case, there is at least some measure of irony to be noted here, since the handling of the shooting incident by some county sheriff’s officers, who were “first on the scene,” has been questioned and criticized.

What About the Parkland High School Teachers and Staff?

Cast aside by the new PTSD law are workers who all too often have had to face the horrors of violent incidents such as the Parkland High School shooting. The new Florida law affords protection not so much to those who may have actually been the “first to respond”—the teachers, principals, and other staff members on hand who attempted to rally and help the the dying and the wounded—but rather to those who job it is to respond to emergency issues. Police, EMT personnel, firefighters and the like may be awarded compensation for PTSD associated with future events; teachers and school staff members are on their own.

Pulse Nightclub Shooting

So are nightclub bartenders, bouncers and others who may also find themselves among the first to deal with an emergency situation. We recall that in June 2016, a gunman, espousing allegiance to ISIS, went on a rampage at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub, killing 49 people and wounding at least 53. Reports indicate a number of the nightclub’s employees attempted to render aid to those who had been so brutally shot. it was a sight that many of the nightclub employees will never be able to erase from their minds. Bouncers, restaurant and lounge employees, who may have to deal with the frantic first few minutes of a terrorist attack, will not be covered by Florida’s new law. Nor will emergency room nurses and others who early on have to deal with the carnage.

Favoring Some Classes of Victims and Disfavoring Others is Nothing New

Of course, it isn’t news when a governmental entity chooses to provide significant injury or death benefits to one group of victims, while refusing to do so for others in quite similar circumstances. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress created a $7 billion fund to compensate 5,562 family members of the fallen. Victims of the Pennsylvania air crash were included within as well. The level of benefits paid primarily depended upon the deceased’s earnings prior to the attack. Families of victims in the highest salary bracket of $220,000 or more received as much as $7.1 million.

In spite of the fact that several later attacks were labeled as terrorist incidents, no federal monies were allocated to help the victims of the:

  • Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre (not ruled a terrorist attack)
  • Dec. 2, 2015 San Bernardino shooting that killed 14
  • Oct. 31, 2017 incident in which a man originally from Uzbekistan, allegedly drove a rented truck into a crowd of pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path near the World Trade Center in Manhattan
  • Nov. 28, 2016 indicated at Ohio State University, where a person ran his car into a group of students and then slashed people with a butcher knife (ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack)
  • October 1, 2017 Las Vegas shooting (this incident has not generally been referred to as a terrorist attack)

I could go on. The attack on 9/11 was/is, of course, a hot topic. It led to a swift reaction. The message sent: If you were a high-paid Wall Street professional or someone associated with the Pentagon, your survivors warrant not only our “thoughts and prayers” (the statement quickly made following any tragedy these days), but significant compensatory benefits. If you teach school, work in a nightclub, or live in “fly-over” America, your survivors better hope you secured adequate life insurance. “Nothing to see here …. Move along.”

Burden Should be on the Legislature to Justify Disparate Treatment

I repeat, “What does Florida have against teachers?” Why shouldn’t the burden of justifying such disparate treatment of employees within the state be on the legislature? It is one thing to bar recovery for mental injuries any any employees within the state. It is an altogether different thing to carve out one set of employees, deem that that warrant special treatment, and then cast a blind eye to countless others who face the same, or worse, as they go about their daily jobs earning a living in the classroom, the nightclub, or any other Florida business establishment.

By the Way: Washington State Joins Florida in PTSD Protection for First Responders

Florida is, of course, not alone. Last week, Governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, signed an amendment into law that also extended PTSD coverage to “first responders.” Unlike the Florida law, Washington’s statute provides a presumption that a first responder’s PTSD is compensable as the first responder has been in the field for ten years or more before the condition developed. An expert psychologist must also certify that the injury was not present at the time the first responder took the job.

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One Response to Commentary: How Equitable is Florida’s New PTSD Coverage?

  1. The diagnostic criteria for PTSD includes witnessing an act such as these horrific events. The criteria excludes witnessing via T-V or other media. The breakdown in the social fabric of a school or other situations creates a high risk for the development of PTSD.
    First responders may be more equipped to deal with these events by their training and experience but even they have their limitations.

    As a forensic psychiatrist who deals with these issues on a weekly basis, I say trust the legal system to weed out individuals who falsely claim PTSD rather than a legislature with very limited knowledge of the subject.

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