WASHINGTON - News leaders with WKMG-TV News 6 accepted the NAB Leadership Foundation Service to Community Award on Tuesday.
News 6 was selected to receive the reward for getting help for first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder to receive benefits they need to aid with treatment of their illness.
Months of reporting on the issue resulted in the passing of the Florida state law to provide those benefits to all first responders.
"For our news team, it validates the idea that the work we are doing is important and getting recognized, it's most importantly, it's helping people in our community," said Jeff Hoffman, vice president and general manager of the station.
Hoffman said the station's work would not be possible without the News 6 viewers.
"You inspire us. You give us ideas," Hoffman said.
From August 2016 to March 2018, WKMG News 6 investigated and presented a series of reports led by investigative reporter Mike Holfeld that featured first responders diagnosed with PTSD.
The station provided a platform for these men and women to expose what both the professionals and their families considered a failure by the state to recognize PTSD as a real medical injury.
At that time and under the existing Florida law, workers’ compensation insurance was not available for men and women diagnosed with PTSD, unless they could prove they were physically injured during the emergency call as well.
Florida first responders and their families reached out to WKMG News 6 to help them bring awareness to people quietly suffering with PTSD.
WKMG began reporting on the topic in August 2016 with Orlando Police Department first responder Gerry Realin, one of the seven assigned to remove the dead from the Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were slain earlier that year.
He told Holfeld that he had never experienced anything like that in his life.
Realin’s story led to a floodgate of first responders struggling with PTSD to come forward and share their stories when they were afraid to come forward before.
"We listened, the community listened, and together, we won tonight," Holfeld said.
On March 27, 2018, after almost two years of investigative reporting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a special signing ceremony at the Tampa Fire Fighters Museum for Senate Bill 376: Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders. On October 1, 2018, Senate Bill 376 became law in the state of Florida, providing first responders who are diagnosed with PTSD the same medical benefits provided to a first responder who sustains a physical injury.
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