Florida Senate passes bill for first responder PTSD benefits

Bill heads to Florida House for Monday vote

(CNN; Steven Fernandez; Family photos; WESH; WKMG)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Firefighters, police officers and other first responders could get workers' compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder under a bill passed by the Florida Senate.

The Senate voted unanimously for the legislation Saturday.

Lawmakers have heard stories of firefighters and police officers who have taken their own lives or can no longer do their jobs because of repeated exposure to horrific deaths and tragedies, but they don't have benefits that include treatment for PTSD, including the reports by News 6 investigator Mike Holfeld on the struggles a first responder faced after responding to the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in 2016.

Gerry Realin had to leave his job as an Orlando police officer because of PTSD following the massacre. He and his wife have rallied around the bill since then, even speaking in front of lawmakers in Tallahassee.

Jessica Realin said she is confident that their work over the last two years is paying off and that lawmakers are getting behind the proposed legislation.

Holfeld has been at the forefront of the push for the bill's passing since the Senate's last session.

Right now, workers' compensation benefits only cover physical injuries.

SB 376, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, of Broward County, "provides workers' compensation benefits for mental or nervous injuries regardless of whether such injuries are accompanied by physical injuries.”

All indications point to the House approving the measure come Monday. If approved, the bill will then head to the governor's desk to be signed into law. The measure would go into effect Oct. 1.

A similar House bill is set for a final vote next week.

For more information on the Senate bill, visit flsenate.gov.