TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – Police chiefs and sheriffs from across the Sunshine State are calling on lawmakers to allow more time for their officers to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Police say the limited timeframe has made it near impossible for officers to qualify.
Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter said the number of officers suffering from post-traumatic stress is greatly underestimated.
“I’d venture to guess that you’d probably have a hard time finding any officer that doesn’t have some form of it,” said Slaughter, who also works as the parliamentarian for the Florida Police Chiefs Association.
It was only three years ago PTSD was added as a recognized line of duty injury covered by workers’ comp. Still, many are slipping through the cracks.
Walton County Sheriff Michael Atkinson told state lawmakers of a deputy sheriff who had survived a shootout. Five years later, he was up for promotion and turned in his badge out of the blue.
“Had not even spoken to his wife and children. He just wanted to walk out right there because of an incident that happened that had festered over the course of five years,” said Atkinson, who is a past president of the Florida Sheriffs Association.
Law enforcement said a big part of the problem is that in order to qualify for workers’ comp, officers have to point to a specific incident that caused their PTSD and apply for compensation within a year.
“The nature of PTSD, the science shows that you don’t know when those symptoms are going to manifest themselves,” Slaughter said.
Police are hoping Florida lawmakers can tweak PTSD coverage in the 2022 legislative session. At the top of the list: giving officers more time to apply.
“It’s an arbitrary time limit that just doesn’t make any sense. The officers, they may start showing symptoms later on in their career or there may be an accumulative effect of multiple events and right now the current legislation doesn’t do that,” he said.
Law enforcement officials also told 8 On Your Side they believe better PTSD coverage and access to mental health resources could help with officer retention. They said better trained and more experienced officers will translate to greater public safety as a whole.
According to bluehelp.org, 11 Florida law enforcement officers took their own lives in 2020. Already, seven have been lost to suicide this year.
If you or a loved one are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.