June is PTSD Awareness Month.
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is a condition that impacts many military veterans and first responders, such as police and firefighters.
PTSD can occur when someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. This condition wasn’t always understood properly by the medical or military community. “Shell shock” and “battle fatigue” or “combat fatigue” were earlier attempts to define and understand the symptoms of PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and those who suffer from it were often maligned and stigmatized in popular culture after the Vietnam War, and many films and television shows featured antagonists or unsympathetic characters suffering from “Vietnam flashbacks” or other post-combat issues.
This misunderstanding of PTSD slowly began to change in 1980 when it was recognized as a specific condition with identifiable symptoms. As a result, since that time Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Today, the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are better understood, treatable, and recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a service-connected condition.
Now we are recognizing that because of the nature of their jobs, police and firefighters, like military combat veterans, are routinely exposed to traumatic events that can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For this reason, police and firefighters are twice as likely as the general population to experience PTSD.
Currently, however, it is often difficult for police and firefighters in California to receive the treatment that they need and deserve.
New legislation — SB 542 — would provide that in the case of certain state and local firefighting personnel and peace officers, the term “injury” also includes a mental health condition or mental disability that results in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress or mental health disorder that develops or manifests itself during a period in which the firefighter or peace officer is in the service of the department or unit.
This new legislation recognizes that “Today, a firefighter’s and law enforcement officer’s occupational stress is heightened in the face of California’s ‘new normal’ in which wildland and wildland-urban interface fires continue to annually increase as hot, dry, and wind-whipped conditions persist” and that “Last year’s fire storms were a brutal reminder of the ferocity of wildfires and how all too often on-duty firefighters and law enforcement officers incur the stress of witnessing victims flee while worrying about whether their own homes, and the safety of their families and neighbors, are threatened. When on duty, firefighters and law enforcement officers endure the added pain of driving through wreckage, seeing destroyed homes, or worse, the skeletal remains of family, friends, and neighbors burned to ash while not being able to stop to provide assistance or comfort.”
The legislation further recognizes that “While the cumulative impacts of these aggressive, deadly events are taking their toll, our firefighters and law enforcement officers continue to stand up to human-caused devastation and nature’s fury, but they are physically and emotionally exhausted” and that “California has a responsibility to ensure that its fire and law enforcement agencies are equipped with the tools necessary to assist their personnel in mitigating the occupational stress experienced as a result of performing their job duties and protecting the public.”
For these reasons, the intent of the legislation to “recogniz[e] the hazards and resulting trauma of these occupations and provide treatment and support for these public servants through presumptive care to our firefighters and law enforcement officers.”
As the daughter of a police officer and the mother of a firefighter, I strongly support SB 542 and it’s goal of providing treatment for police and firefighters suffering from service-related PTSD.
I urge everyone in California to contact their representatives in both the State Senate and the State Assembly to urge them to Vote Yes on SB 542!