PTSD legislation faces second subcommittee hearing

Recent court decision could leverage Tallahassee debate

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A judge's decision to deny a Pulse first responder's workers compensation benefits may provide the political momentum this week for proposed legislation in Tallahassee that would make post-traumatic stress disorder recognizable as a compensable injury without a physical injury.

“The decision was disappointing,” said Geoff Bichler, attorney for former Orlando police Officer Gerry Realin. "But we also feel it’s very good in that it highlights the issue for the legislature.”

The argument for full coverage for a first responder diagnosed with PTSD has been a hot topic following the Pulse assault in 2016.

Bichler challenged the existing law before workers' compensation using the argument that Realin’s hypertension should be considered a physical injury.

Judge Neal Pitts issued a decision last week denying the request, finding that while Realin suffered PTSD as a result of his Pulse assignment, he did not prove “that he suffered a hypertension condition or injury June 12, 2016 at the Pulse Nightclub.”

An audio recording of the Dec.18 hearing showed the judge was wrestling with the issue as he told attorneys for Realin and the city of Orlando.

"I only have the law as we know it," he said.

Senate Bill 376, sponsored by minority leader Sen. Lauren Book, of Broward County, would change the existing law.

The legislation would provide "workers' compensation benefits for mental or nervous injuries regardless of whether such injuries are accompanied by physical injuries," according to the filing.

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

The bill, which won unanimous approval from the state Senate Banking and Insurance subcommittee late last year, faces a second test before the Commerce and Tourism Committee Tuesday.

Bichler told News 6 that he feels the issue is starting to gain support on both sides of the aisle.

“I’m cautiously optimistic," he said. "It seems as though everyone agrees this change needs to be made.”

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