MILWAUKEE — In what has been arguably the toughest year in recent history for first responders, access to care for post-traumatic stress disorder remains out of reach through the state's workers' compensation law.
Back in February, the I-Team reported on a bill in Madison that would include PTSD as a workplace injury for firefighters and police officers.
But since then the plan has stalled in the Legislature, another setback caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joe Flick, a Milwaukee firefighter and the president of Ignite the Spirit Milwaukee, reminds us that the pandemic doesn't stop first responders from answering the call.
"We're still going to all the fires and the car accidents and you know all the trauma that we see," Flick said. "But now, the call volume is much higher as well."
Flick said for many of his fellow firefighters, PTSD doesn't typically come from one specific scene. Instead, it builds call after call.
"This is a very real injury, just like any other injury that a firefighter or any one of us might endure," he said. "Well, this is just one that you can't necessarily see."
Mike Doud, the executive director of the Wisconsin Injured Law Enforcement Officers Resource Council, echoed Flick's explanation.
"For many, it's an accumulation of all the calls where you have veterans, firefighters, and police officers doing 15, 20, 25 years on the job without any type of support or treatment," Doud said.
Doud points out that PTSD isn't necessarily covered under private insurance plans, because it stems from the workplace. But the state's workers' compensation laws don't include PTSD as a covered injury.
The proposal has bipartisan support, and two versions of it have passed in either chamber. But lawmakers haven't taken the steps to finalize it to send the governor.
"It's very irritating," Doud said. "There was a push for this legislation started about three years ago. And in those last three years, we've lost over 15 officers."
"You have suicides outpacing on-duty deaths," said state Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere).
Jacque is the author of the bill. He's hopeful lawmakers will meet before the end of the legislative session, but that's days away.
"We have to find some way to get it over the finish line," Jacque said.
The new legislative session starts in January. If the bill doesn't pass lawmakers will have to start the process over, meaning those we ask to save us, will have to wait longer for help that could save them.
Ignite the Spirit Milwaukee just announced a new fundraising effort to help cover transportation costs or firefighters that need to travel for treatment.
You can also learn more about the Wisconsin Injured Law Enforcement Officers Resource Council, and how to support their mission. Just click here.