Firefighters, Police Could See Expanded Workers’ Compensation

Late Thursday and early into Friday the Connecticut Senate debated and eventually passed a measure that would increase workers’ compensation for cancer diagnoses and post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders.

“What it will do is allow people to go out and feel inspired as police officers, going out into the field and facing the things that we do and seeing the things we do,” said Connecticut State Police Union President Andy Matthews.

The measure received bipartisan support. If the House approves the bill and the governor signs it, professional firefighters with five years of service will be covered. Volunteers will need 15 years of service and certification to fight interior fires.

For police, the victory is in the form of coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder. It came within hours of a state labor board siding with a Newtown officer who suffered mental anguish during the Sandy Hook school shooting. He’ll be more than $380,000 until he reaches retirement age, at which time he will collect on his pension.

Cities and towns argue they were shut out from negotiations on the bill, which they say could cost taxpayers and town budgets millions of dollars due to abuse and waste.

“Think about all of the detectives who go to crime scenes and say, ‘Well, you know what, I was very upset with that,'” said South Windsor Town Manager Matthew Galligan, who serves as the current President of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Galligan says the new coverage amounts to an unfunded mandate that puts firefighters and police on a different benefit scale.

“We have veterans come home from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq, who are coming home with real, serious issues, we’re doing nothing for them, they’re out there in the streets, with no helping hand, and now because somebody walks into a crime scene, we’re going to pay through the nose for the rest of our lives,” he said during an interview Friday.

Police unions in Connecticut are thrilled with the passage by the Senate.

They argue that coverage for PTSD, which they say amounts to mental health improvements, will only make the police force stronger and is good for the communities they serve.

“Wouldn’t the towns want their police officers to be mentally healthy carrying a gun and a badge, being able to respond to a critical incident where they may have to save someone’s life or their own?” said Matthews with the State Police Union. “There’s no price tag for that, right?”

Matthews says any talk of abuse is meant as a scare tactic aimed at killing the bill.

“Not every bad scene we go up to will we put in for a workman’s comp benefit for post traumatic stress. Everybody handles it differently,” he said.

Galligan says he’s uncertain as to how the Connecticut House will view the legislation. His fear is that the organized labor groups who pushed the bill in the Senate will have similar success, which may lead to millions in payouts for firefighters and police.

“We understand government and what it takes to care for people and firefighters and what they do,” Galligan said. “[Firefighters] go to the state legislature with these people who are backed by the unions and they know they are going to be able to not negotiate with us and get their negotiations done.”