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Connecticut lawmakers consider workers' compensation expansion

The Connecticut General Assembly is considering two bills this session that would expand workers' compensation benefits coverage for mental trauma stemming from witnessing violent events such as the Dec. 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The bills would return benefits that were lost when the law was overhauled in 1993 to lower costs.

The Public Safety and Security Committee is considering a bill that would provide workers' compensation coverage to state or municipal employees that are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing a violent event or its aftermath in connection with their employment. The Committee heard testimony from a Newtown Police officer who has not returned to work since the mass shooting because of PTSD. He testified that he experienced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He is receiving half of his base pay through the town's long-term disability policy. However, workers' compensation would provide more than 66 percent of his net pay, including an average of overtime pay, tax-free.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee is considering a much broader bill which would require workers' compensation coverage for all employees who suffer emotional or mental impairment by witnessing an intentional death or maiming, or the aftermath. Coverage is not limited to PTSD or to government employees.

Since the last legislative session, according to the bill's advocates, these proposals were improved. For example, both bills would require diagnosis by a psychiatrist or psychologist and there must be intentionally violent events. Proponents also argue that catastrophic events, such as the Sandy Hook shootings, along with the Boston bombing and the 2001 World Trade Center attack, require this expansion.

The state relations manager for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities argued that these bills are still costly for cities and towns which would have to sometimes pay full wage replacement and that many of the diagnosis are subjective and overlap with existing symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. He also said that cities, such as Newtown, exceed their obligations in providing relief to workers for these types of violent events.

Employees that are injured on the job, from a physical or a mental injury, should seek guidance on whether they are entitled to benefits. Qualified advice will protect rights to lost wages and medical expenses.

Source: The New Haven Register, "Connecticut bill expands workers' compensation law," Associated Press, March 11, 2014

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