Colorado Workers’ Comp for PTSD
Everything you need to know about applying for workers’ comp benefits in Colorado for PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is probably not the sort of injury you associate with workers’ compensation, but it’s more common than you think. Particularly for police officers, EMTs and firefighters, witnessing and responding to troubling scenes are often part of the daily job—and PTSD can be a real problem.
Mental trauma in the form of flashbacks, emotional distress, or even depression and anxiety can be a direct result of trauma at work.
Depending on your state, laws can vary as to whether or not you’ll be able to claim PTSD in workers’ comp. Some states don’t allow this unless the PTSD is directly tied to an injury, while others only allow claims if you’re in certain lines of work where emotional and mental trauma are common.
Luckily, laws are beginning to change surrounding PTSD in the workplace.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Also known as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” PTSD is a condition that can develop in response to trauma. It’s characterized by physical, mental and emotional side effects as the person tries to cope with the aftermath of experiencing something violent or frightening.
PTSD can be triggered by a number of traumas, including:
- Domestic abuse
- Natural disasters
- Medical emergencies
It’s most commonly associated with soldiers returning from war, but it can afflict anyone who experiences something terrible, including workers suffering from workplace trauma. Even loved ones of a victim can develop what’s known as secondary traumatic stress disorder or secondhand PTSD.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD can manifest in a multitude of ways, including:
- Panic/anxiety attacks
- Flashbacks or hallucinations
- Emotional outbursts
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Numbness or detachment
- Suicidal thoughts
While it isn’t uncommon to experience things like nightmares after a traumatic event, PTSD is marked by persistent, severe symptoms, especially those that don’t fade over time.
How common is PTSD?
According to WebMD, more than 5 million Americans currently suffer from PTSD, and almost 8 million will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to experience it than men, though it can happen to any gender. It can also afflict all ages, including children.
How is PTSD diagnosed?
PTSD is diagnosed by mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers. A doctor might suspect that you have PTSD, but they’ll need to refer you to a mental health practitioner for you to receive an official diagnosis.
Generally speaking, there are 2 components to a PTSD diagnosis:
- Duration of symptoms (must be longer than 1 month since the triggering incident)
- Severity of symptoms (must be disruptive to your everyday life)
What treatment options are available for workers with PTSD?
Since every case of PTSD is as unique as the person who has it, treatment options vary as well. They might include:
- Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications
- General therapy or counseling
- Specialized therapy, such as prolonged exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Which types of workers are most likely to experience PTSD?
PTSD can strike anyone, but it’s most common among workers in high-risk or high-stress situations. First responders like paramedics, firefighters and police officers are routinely exposed to life-threatening dangers as part of their work, making them more likely to develop PTSD.
Other common types of workers who may be more likely to experience PTSD symptoms include the following:
- Healthcare workers. Medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and emergency room staff, may experience traumatic incidents, such as witnessing severe injuries or deaths or dealing with high-stress situations, potentially leading to PTSD.
- Trauma and crisis workers. Individuals who work directly with trauma survivors, such as counselors, therapists, social workers and crisis hotline operators, may be vulnerable to secondary trauma and can develop symptoms of PTSD.
- Disaster responders. Workers involved in responding to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or floods, may encounter distressing scenes, loss of life, and devastation, which can contribute to the development of PTSD.
- War correspondents and journalists. Journalists and war correspondents reporting from conflict zones or covering traumatic events may be exposed to significant trauma and can develop PTSD as a result.
- Teachers. School shootings and other traumatic events make teachers more likely to experience PTSD as a result of their work.
- Child protective services workers. Professionals involved in child protection services, who witness or investigate cases of child abuse, neglect or violence, may be at higher risk of developing PTSD due to the distressing nature of their work.
- Prison guards. Those working in correctional facilities, facing potential violence, threats and exposure to traumatic events related to inmate behavior, may be at increased risk of developing PTSD.
It’s important to note that anyone, regardless of their occupation, can experience PTSD if they’ve been exposed to a violent act or other traumatic event at work.
Is PTSD covered under workers’ comp in Colorado?
The Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act allows workers to receive benefits for “mental impairments” such as PTSD. However, there are a number of rules and regulations that determine how this is actually qualified and paid off.
In past years, for example, the Act only covered PTSD if it resulted from a “psychologically traumatic event” that occurred “outside of a worker’s usual experience.” This excluded claims from emergency responders and others who encountered life-and-death situations as part of their everyday job duties.
In 2017, however, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill that allowed first responders to apply for PTSD claims under Colorado’s workers’ compensation laws, rather than being forced to pay for treatment out of their own pockets.
Later, that law was expanded to include workers who aren’t first responders but who still experience certain traumatic events on the job. This means that everyone from teachers who live through a school shooting to construction workers who witness an on-site death may be eligible for workers’ comp benefits if they later develop PTSD.
However, there are additional requirements, such as the worker needing to “visually or audibly witness” injury or death to qualify for a PTSD claim.
What types of benefits are available to Colorado workers with PTSD?
Workers’ comp benefits for PTSD are considered “economic damages” that focus on tangible repayments for services needed or received. In other words, you can’t get compensated for “non-economic damages” such as pain and suffering. However, you can file a claim for the following:
- Medical benefits, including prescribed medications, therapy and doctor appointments
- Wage loss benefits, which are typically two-thirds of your average weekly wage if your PTSD forces you to miss work
Contact an experienced Colorado workers’ compensation attorney
A workers’ compensation attorney can be a valuable asset during legal proceedings. This is especially true if your claim has been denied or if the insurance company is starting an investigation or dragging its feet on issuing your benefits. A lawyer can help you file documents, meet deadlines, negotiate terms and receive the compensation that you deserve for your PTSD.
If you’ve been injured or developed a condition like PTSD on the job in Denver and wish to seek workers’ comp benefits, The Babcock Law Firm is prepared to help you navigate the complicated legal process and receive the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation and learn more about your options.