September 26, 2018 Guest Post – Meuser Law Office, P.A. “Breaking the Silence: Firefighters and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

For over a decade, the attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A., have been fighting to help our state’s first responders get access to help for work-related mental health conditions – most prominently post-traumatic stress disorder.

We have helped hundreds of police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and corrections officers obtain workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense, wage loss, and rehabilitation benefits, as well as PERA Duty Disability pension benefits.

Over the last ten years we have slowly, but surely, seen a change in police departments regarding post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s a long way to go, but attitudes towards mental health in police departments seems to be changing. From an anecdotal perspective, there seems to be better support in departments for officers struggling with mental health issues, as well as a push for better early intervention services for officers who have experienced trauma. We are also noticing better awareness of the symptoms and causes of PTSD. Officers are looking out for each other and there is less reluctance and stigma for officers seeking help sooner. That is good news for Minnesota’s police officers.

For Minnesota firefighters however, we haven’t seen the same improvements. While there has been a concerted effort to address the problem of mental health issues for our state’s police officers, there hasn’t been the same effort for our firefighters. Minnesota’s firefighters are equally at risk for developing work-related post-traumatic stress disorder as police officers.

Researchers estimate that anywhere from seven to thirty-seven percent of firefighters have PTSD. A study from Florida State University found that nearly half of firefighters have had suicidal thoughts and that about 1 in 5 have made plans to take their own lives. Those statistics are horrific; yet, there is still a culture in the fire services that views seeking treatment for mental health related issues as a weakness.

The statistics as well as the culture of silence regarding post-traumatic stress disorder amongst firefighters is unacceptable. We need to ensure our state’s firefighters have early and appropriate access to mental health services without fear of retaliation or fear of losing their jobs.

The good news is there are services out there to provide confidential support to Minnesota’s firefighters struggling with mental health issues. One new non-profit that is making a difference is MNFire. The Minnesota Professional Firefighters (MPFF), Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association (MSFCA) and the Minnesota State Fire Department Association (MSFDA) together created MnFIRE to rally firefighters – and the people who support them – to gear up for their health. MnFIRE also has a 24-hour crisis hotline manned by volunteers, including firefighters. Call 1-888-784-6634 day or night for confidential help.

Firefighters and other first responders are also often reluctant to seek help for mental health issues due to fear and uncertainty about losing their career. Concerns about how to financially provide for their family if they cannot continue working as a firefighter is very common. When we meet with new clients who come to us unsure about whether to seek help, our message is always the same: Know this – there are many, many financial resources available for our state’s first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. No matter what else happens, you and your family will be OK financially.

At Meuser Law Office, P.A., we help you navigate through this difficult time with compassion, respect, and expertise. For a free confidential, no-obligation consultation to learn more about your rights contact Meuser Law Office, P.A.  Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.