First responder PTSD workers compensation law passes the Florida House

Law recognizes PTSD as 'occupational disease'

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida House approved new workers compensation legislation by a unanimous vote Monday that will recognize post-traumatic stress disorder as an “occupational disease.”

Among those in the chamber were Pulse first responder Gerry Realin and his wife Jessica, the woman who launched the fight to change the legislation to recognize PTSD as a compensable injury.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Lauren Book, of Plantation, was unanimously approved in a rare Saturday session. 

H.B. 227 sponsored by Rep. Matt Wilhite of Palm County, maintains that medical and salary benefits “do not require a physical injury.”

Wilhite introduced the Senate version of the bill, which essentially mirrors his bill.

Current legislation mandated a physical injury accompany PTSD diagnosis for a first responder to be eligible for medical and lost wages.

Jessica Realin led the fight to get the new legislation in place after seeing her husband’s struggle to get financial and medical compensation.

She acknowledges that critics saw the proposed law as a chance to cheat the system.

The new legislation makes it clear: “Such disorder must be demonstrated by clear and convincing medical evidence.”

“It’s very extensive, (the medical tests),” it’s not something you could fake,”Jessica Realin said. “Now they will have a licensed psychiatrist, a doctor, making the call.”

Her husband, who is still undergoing weekly PTSD treatment, was in the House chamber for the vote and was greeted with a standing ovation.

Maitland attorney Geoff Bichler, who has championed the legal fight to get the law through House and Senate subcommittees, called the vote historic for Florida and its first responders.

“It really is a major victory," Bichler said. "We had the medical coverage in place but without this lost wage compensation we just weren’t recognizing the nature and severity of the condition, so it is very powerful."

The law is ready to go to the governor’s desk and will be enacted Oct.1, 2018.
 

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