Kansas law enforcement officers and first responders have touted a recent Senate bill as a step towards greater mental health awareness and support.
Senate Bill 491 advocates for workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological disorder often diagnosed in law enforcement officers.
Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister recently testified in support of the bill at the Senate Commerce Committee session in Topeka, Kansas, saying that he hopes the bill will provide relief for officers suffering from PTSD.
In his testimony, Armbrister shared his personal story of traumatic experiences on the job, including witnessing the body of a dead child, which required years of healing.
The sheriff said the bill is not only about supporting mental wellness, but also normalizing mental health issues for those in law enforcement.
“It is absolutely worth it in order to get the legislators to understand exactly what it is that they’re talking about,” Armbrister said. “It’s really about destigmatizing the terms but also understanding that day to day, our local first responders are dealing with some s*** that ain’t nobody supposed to be dealing with.”
The bill would make any first responder (including police officers, EMS workers, paramedics and firefighters) diagnosed with PTSD resulting from an on-duty experience eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
According to the Department of Administration, adding PTSD to the list of accepted injuries would estimate to a cost of around $4.5 million from the state’s Self Insurance Fund. It’s estimated that roughly 387 state-employed first responders would be eligible for the compensation in 2023.
Ed Klumpp with the Kansas Peace Officers Association said the bill is a huge step forward for recognizing mental health problems in first responders.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder is not an incurable ailment. Many of those reaching this advanced stage of post-traumatic stress can still be treated and return to work. But they need time and resources to get the treatment without piling on more trauma-related stress on top of what already exists,” Klumpp told the Kansas Reflector.
Armbrister’s Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has already added a peer support system and a mental health clinician for officers to meet with and discuss their problems, but he says more needs to be done.
Klumpp pointed out that Nebraska and Colorado have each passed laws recognizing PTSD as an injury eligible for workers’ compensation and hopes Kansas will follow suit.
“By moving this bill forward, you will be demonstrating that you have our first responders’ backs, that you are willing to put into place safeguards to assure they will have the time and resources to recover and return to their chosen service to the people of Kansas,” Klumpp said.