First responder with PTSD: There's no protection to get well

EMT called to brother's fatal accident wants law changed

COCOA, Fla. – When the call “vehicle-pedestrian” came over the Cocoa Fire Department’s emergency radio last July, it was a call Josh Vandegrift had handled hundreds of times before.

“Sometimes it comes up in dreams, calls I’ve run 10 years ago, just the horror of it,” Vandegrift said.

Still, the veteran EMT-firefighter said  those life-or-death moments never got the better of him until he saw the face of the man hit by a van on U.S. 1 and Peachtree Street.  

“Grabbed my bags walked up to clear the people out of the way, and my brother had a tattoo on his neck and I saw the tattoo and I thought how is that possible?” he said.

As far as Vandegrift knew, his younger brother, Nate, was supposed to be in Melbourne.

At first he tried to be professional, but when police officers realized what had happened they pulled him away.

Wiping tears from his eyes, he recalled the nightmarish moment.

“When I was taken away, I was screaming his name … he moved his fingers … so I know he heard me,” Vandegrift said.

Nate Vandegrift was taken off life support later that afternoon.

For the past six months, Josh Vandegrift has been going to therapy trying to get the will to go back to the job he’d loved for 11 years.  He’s been diagnosed with PTSD.

“I am  just  a  shell of what  I used to be,” he said.

State law doesn’t provide long term disability wages for PTSD unless there is a physical injury as well.

Now he is joining other Central Florida first responders and state law makers to change that law.

State Sen. Victor Torres, of Kissimmee, is crafting the language for the proposed change.

The former New York Transit cop and detective has seen the effects of PTSD first-hand and said change is needed to protect Florida’s first responders.

For more information on PTSD  and how to get help for someone you know, go to:


About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.