ORLANDO, Fla. – One week after the Florida House unanimously approved workers compensation wage benefits for first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the wife of Pulse first responder Gerry Realin said reports from News 6 made the difference in getting the law passed.
“You were listening when no one else was," Jessica Realin said Monday. "I don’t want another first responder family to go through what my family went through.”
Jessica Realin made nearly a dozen trips to Tallahassee along with other first responders’ families to testify before House and Senate subcommittees .
The bill died on the floor last year; this year was much different.
In each meeting, respective versions of the House and Senate bills passed unanimously ending with sweeping votes on the floor last week.
Jessica Realin is convinced the deadly Valentine’s Day assault at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland proved to be the last piece to the argument that PTSD should be recognized as a compensable illness.
“I know it did, I know it did,” she said. “Even though the victims weren’t in the building any longer, they (state legislators) had to see what first responders see and that’s why they acted.”
Veteran Maitland attorney Geoff Bichler, who was in Tallahassee for the vote, agreed that the stories of first responders and their families put faces to the PTSD issue.
“Those stories needed to be told,” Bichler said. “People needed to hear those stories in order for there to be any movement on this legislation.”
Under the law, a first responder must go on the record about a PTSD issue no more than 52 weeks from the event believed to be responsible for the diagnosed condition.
Bichler told News 6 the real test is when a first responder asks for help.
“It’s going to force agencies to recognize an issue that has been really stigmatized and forced underground too long," Bichler said.
Gerry Realin, still under treatment for PTSD, told News 6 via email that he was thankful for the small group of people who helped get the legislation passed, but that in his eyes his wife was the real hero.
Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the legislation during a special ceremony with first responders in attendance.