HARRISBURG, PA — Majority Chairman Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware) and other members of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee held an informational meeting about the unique effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) on first responders in the Commonwealth.
“Even though people commonly think of PTSI impacting members of our military and veterans, there are actually higher rates of PTSI in our first responder community, which is why it was important to me to shine a light on this pervasive issue,” Barrar said. “I have also drafted legislation, House Bill 432, which would require PTSI to be included in workers’ compensation law.”
During the hearing, Steve Bender, founder of the Firefighter Five Foundation, noted that a first responder takes his or her own life every day and a half. More first responders are lost to suicide than line-of-duty deaths.
Nicole Bailey, M.A., supervised psychologist for Marshall University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, pointed to the cumulative effect of being exposed to disturbing experiences. As people spend more time in the field, they are at greater risk for PTSI, which explains higher first responder rates as opposed to veteran rates; people typically spend more time as first responders than they do serving the military.
Barriers to getting critical PTSI care that were discussed include shame, concern about the impact on employment and the cost associated with therapy.
Pennsylvania’s payment for first responders is lower than the national average, which affects their ability to get the care they need.
Behavioral Health Specialist Sarah Bernes said that addressing the issue causing PTSI, if done shortly after PTSI is evident, often takes just 10-12 weekly sessions while the first responder continues to work. The longer a first responder waits to pursue treatment, the longer it will take and the costlier it will become.
“In the most recent publication of trauma exposure among American adults, 89.7 percent of adults had at least one exposure, and the most common number of potentially traumatic exposures in a lifetime was three. In contrast, fire fighters routinely encounter as many as four unique, potentially traumatic events in a response to a single alarm,” Bernes added.
“I am committed to addressing this serious problem not only because the cost of treating our men and women who are suffering is less than the cost associated with recruiting and retaining new people, but more importantly because it’s the right thing to do. We must bring an end to these tragic deaths and the suffering endured by their loved ones,” Barrar said. “Our first responders truly are our heroes at home, and we need to support them even as they struggle.”
Barrar intends to bring legislation drafted by Reps. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) and Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) that would provide additional tools to emergency responders who are seeking support, such as a peer-to-peer counseling program or an anonymous hotline, up for committee vote in the near future.
Source: Representative Stephen E. Barrar, 160th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
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