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Politics & Government

New Law To Expand PTSI Coverage For Idaho First Responders

Santee Firefighters Association

Starting Monday, Idaho’s first responders will be able to draw more easily workers’ compensation for job-related, post-traumatic stress.

“I’m driving through the parking lot going, ‘Man, if I see any cars I know, I’m not going,’ and then you park a couple blocks out, you do the army crawl, hide behind bushes and get in there,” said Boise Fire Captain Rob Christensen, remembering the first time he went to a counselor.

Christensen had been a firefighter for a year-and-a-half at that point.

After watching a 95-year-old man die from a heart attack, he says his body shut down – he couldn’t talk to the family.

Responding to calls where infants had died and the aftermath of gruesome car crashes, he says, filled his emotional bucket to the breaking point.

Despite his initial skepticism, Christensen says these counseling appointments helped.

He says learning how to mentally deal with these tough scenes isn’t a weakness and there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to asking for help.

“As much as our physical fitness is important, our mental fitness is critical for us to be successful.”

Even ways that people talk about the condition are changing. Post-traumatic stress injury, as opposed to post-traumatic stress disorder, is a way mental health professionals are trying to remove some of the weight the term carries.

In May, the Idaho Statesman reported longtime Boise firefighter Charlie Ruffing died by suicide while on duty. During his funeral earlier this month, Chief Dennis Doan said Ruffing had been diagnosed with PTSI, but it wasn’t clear when.

During the ceremony, Ruffing’s sister, Kathy Richardson, told the crowd to seek help if they’re feeling hopeless, the Statesman reported.

“You are our heroes, but you are humans first.”

Until the new law takes effect July 1, first responders can’t get workers’ compensation for PTSI – also known as PTSD – unless it’s tied to a physical injury.

Championed by House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding (D-Boise), the bill passed both chambers overwhelmingly.

Christensen and others say this will remove a significant barrier to coverage, and hopefully continue to chip away at that long-entrenched stigma.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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