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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Bill May Expand Workers' Comp To Cover Mental Health For Emergency Responders

A bill introduced in Montpelier Tuesday is designed to make sure emergency responders in Vermont get the help they need when the job takes a toll on their mental health.There's already a law on the books that calls for parity between traditional health care and mental health services, but Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, a Democrat from Bradford, says some areas of state policy haven't kept up.

She says that under current Vermont law, first responders suffering from mental health issues because of traumas encountered in the line of duty don't qualify for workers' compensation.

“That just seemed like a really big gap to me,” Copeland-Hanzas said in an interview Tuesday. “That somebody who might respond to a horrific car accident or a house fire and might need some help in therapy, in coming to terms with what they've seen, wouldn't be able to access that service through workers' comp."

Copeland-Hanzas has introduced a bill that ensures that workers' compensation covers mental illnesses caused by workplace traumas.

The bill would also create a legal presumption for emergency workers that any occurrence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was caused in the workplace. The bill would shift the burden to employers to prove that the trauma that led to the PTSD took place when the employee wasn’t on duty.

The bill, H.197, is in the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. Copeland-Hanzas said she hopes the House Committee on Health Care, of which she is a member, will also take up the bill this session.

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