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First responders plead with Wis. lawmakers to pass PTSD workers comp bill

Milwaukee Fire truck
Posted at 12:10 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 15:06:40-05

MADISON — First responders pleaded with lawmakers not to let bipartisan legislation allowing them to access workers' compensation for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder linger any longer.

Last year, it received overwhelming support in both chambers but failed to get a final clerical vote in the Senate before the session ended.

In Wisconsin, police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers are not eligible to file for workers' compensation for PTSD. During Monday's Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform public hearing, many argued it's not a disorder, rather an injury.

"We can handle the active shooter event, we've been training on that," said Middleton Police Chief Troy Hellenbrand. "But what I wasn't prepared for was how my body would react to that situation."

Among the group of first responders was Brent Jones, who TMJ4 News met last February when covering this same legislation.

Firefighters fight for mental health help in Wisconsin

"Without this bill, you're going to see suicides in the next 20 years double and triple within police and fire if we don't get them the help that they need," Jones told lawmakers.

Those in support of the legislation say it would save careers, and lives.

"Officers can take whatever sick time they might have available, but if they do need more time than that in order to get the appropriate treatment," said Jim Palmer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. "That time runs out and, eventually officers have to ultimately make a decision about whether they should return to work, knowing that they're not fully well."

Palmer's organization has been pushing for this legislation for years.

"Year in and year out more law enforcement officers, in particular, die by suicide, then by you know, then, in the course of their duty to the communities," he said.

Some were frustrated they have to start the legislative process over again.

"Since we were here last year in this room in the year 2020, three police officers in Wisconsin, three firefighters in Wisconsin, and one EMS worker in Wisconsin took their own life, and we've already had one firefighter suicide in 2021," said Stephen Raclaw with the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin.

State Sen. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, has authored the bill multiple times. He's optimistic it will be before the full Senate next week. The committee is scheduled to vote on Thursday.

"You know this is something that I think there's bipartisan agreement, we need to move forward with as soon as we possibly can," Jacque said.

Those words were echoed in the testimony of first responders.

"When you go to these scenes painted in hell over and over and over, this bill will really help," said Jefferson Police Chief Kenneth Pileggi.

"Our members need help and I'm hoping you guys will help them sooner than later," Jones said.

Editor's note 2/11/2021: A previous version of this story and the broadcast video erroneously reported Jefferson Police Chief Kenneth Pileggi as West Allis Deputy Chief Robert Fletcher. We apologize for the error.

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