Cities push for PTSD bill; cops, law firm say it wouldn’t help workers

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Cities need help dealing with the surge of cops walking off the field getting disability pensions due to post-traumatic stress disorder – at an average age of 42 – since George’s murder Floyd, their representatives told lawmakers on Tuesday.

They support a bill introduced Monday in the state Legislature that would require cops and firefighters to seek treatment for PTSD in order to get workers’ compensation or apply for disability pensions. .

A former cop, union rep and partner at a Minneapolis law firm that represents most cops receiving those pensions said the bill would only hurt police more.

HF4026 would require emergency responders to complete 32 weeks of PTSD treatment through the workers’ compensation process and obtain a benefit decision before applying for state disability pensions.

The legislation aims to stem flood of cops are retiring early due to PTSD. The number of police and firefighters applying for disability benefits from the state pension fund skyrocketed after the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

The Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association received 118 applications for disability benefits in 2019; 241 in 2020 and 307 in 2021. Most of these applicants were police officers and around 80% said they were disabled by PTSD.

Once a 2019 workers’ compensation law took effect, claims for PTSD from first responders were presumed to be work-related.

Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored the bill introduced this week, said something needs to be done this session as the state faces a PTSD crisis among public safety officers. . The bill is supported by the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Association of Chiefs of Police.

Long said the bill prioritizes treatment because PTSD is a treatable condition for most people.

Nisswa City Administrator Jenny Nash, who serves as the League’s second vice president, said even tiny Nisswa are seeing longtime officers seek ‘service disability pensions’ – which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. One claim, for example, cost more than $350,000 over 24 years, which would require a 14% increase in property tax for ratepayers in the town of less than 2,000.

But lawmakers also heard from Chris Steward, a retired Minneapolis sergeant who has spent most of his career working in north Minneapolis. After 14 years on the force, he was diagnosed with PTSD in June 2020 after riots engulfed the city. He testified that he loved his job but had to leave after becoming a threat to himself and others.

“I have seen the worst in humanity and what I can only describe as pure evil,” he told a House Public Safety Committee, often choked with emotion. “I’ve seen hundreds of dead bodies…the result of gang shootings, fatal car crashes, suicides.”

He has since founded a non-profit organization called Heroes Helping Heroes to help cops deal with PTSD.

Steward said getting unemployment benefits and disability pensions is “not a walk in the park”. He said it took him 15 months to get workers’ compensation — in part because of a federal discrimination lawsuit he filed against the city — and during that time he had to use vacation and sick leave and had lost his health insurance while his wife was pregnant.

But, he says, “I would rather have eaten my own gun than worked another day in this town.”

The bill would require employers to continue providing health insurance benefits for the employee’s required 32 weeks of treatment.

Steward called the bill “awful”, saying it would force officers to choose between their health and their jobs, by forcing them to seek workers’ compensation before disability pensions – a process that could take years. He noted that the League had been fighting a claim for 3.5 years, even though the officer had been approved by PERA for disability retirement.

“They’re nothing more than an insurance company looking to save money,” he said of The League.

Lindsey Rowland, a partner at Meuser, Yackley and Rowland, a law firm she says represents 75% of first responders seeking workers’ compensation and disability pensions due to PTSD, said the bill will not help people get treatment and get back to work.

Rowland said the 2019 law change giving a work-related presumption did not lead to an increase in disability pension claims, contrary to what League officials said. The law has been “effectively meaningless,” she said, since nearly all workers’ compensation claims are initially denied by the League, which provides compensation to workers in all but nine Minnesota cities.

Rowland attributed the increase in disability pensions to the events surrounding Floyd’s murder. Workers are already applying for workers’ compensation before disability retirement, she said, and most go through months of processing before their disability pension is approved.

Ed Reynoso, director of political and legislative affairs for Teamsters Local 320, which represents about 1,400 cops and corrections officers, also opposed the bill, saying it stood between doctors and patients. He said the bill would first need to be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council, as with most workers’ compensation bills.

D. Love, mayor of Centerville and president of the League of Minnesota Cities, said the issue is paramount for cities because the status quo is financially unsustainable. Some small towns might not be able to afford public safety without a solution, he said. Love said the average age of those applying for a disability pension is 42, which he called “shocking”.

Lino Lakes public safety director John Swenson, who has worked in the field for 33 years, said the system does not allow people to get the treatment they need or keep them financially while getting ugly.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said lawmakers would continue to work on the bill. Long said he would continue to work on it.

Given the close relationship in recent years between Senate Republicans and police unions, the passage is likely to be difficult in the upper house.

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