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First responder PTSD costs rise for Minneapolis

Taxpayers' tab for PTSD costs is stacking up in Minneapolis, where dozens of first responders have been sidelined with that injury since 2020 civil unrest

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minneapolis City Council Friday approved 13 worker compensation claims from first responders, totaling $1.7 million. It's part of a much larger, more expensive trend for the city that's still rebuilding from COVID shocks and the civil unrest following George Floyd's death in 2020.

Ron Meuser, the attorney representing the 13 employees who settled with the city Friday, said he has negotiated 65 cases of police officers and firefighters who've been sidelined with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, since the rioting in May and early June of 2020.

So far, 40 of the settlements have been approved, while others are still in the mill.

"I would expect we’ll have similar type numbers for the next 15 to 16 months," Meuser told KARE.

"You’ll see kind of a consistent pattern of roughly 10 to 20 settlements each month until the cases run through their course. Ultimately, we’ll see a figure total around $35 million between cases already settled and cases yet to be resolved."

The City of Minneapolis had 30 PTSD claims from 2014 through 2019. Since May 25, 2020 — the day George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin — a total of 189 first responders have filed PTSD claims.  

According to an October city report, at least 75 percent of those filing claim are over the age of 40. The diagnosis was most common in those who'd worked as first responders at least 20 years.

City Council Chair Lisa Bender said the city has softened the flow somewhat by deferring part of the payments, with settlements that call for three installment payments over three years. But it's still a significant price to pay for officers who currently aren't able to do their jobs.

"The 2022 budget, there’s a total of $24 million planned to cover expenses for officers who are not on the force. It’s partly in the police budget and partly in our self-insurance fund," Bender explained.

This is in addition to the continued medical coverage the city provides to retired employees in keeping with labor controls, or disability pension claims to the Public Employees Retirement Association, or PERA.

Workers' Comp. pays medical bills for injuries sustained on the job, but the big ticket item in these claims is lost wages from work time lost to the PTSD injury. In some cases, according to Meuser, the claim was based on a combination of PTSD and physical injuries.

A 2019 change in state law brought more attention to the phenomenon of PTSD for first responders. That was the year the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that carried the presumption that when a first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, it's a job-related injury.

But it's not automatic.

"They must have two doctors that support and conclude that these individuals have PTSD and that their condition will prevent them from performing their regular functions at the city for a period of at least one year," Meuser explained.

"It was a very, very difficult decision for each and  every one of these officers and firefighters to leave their career, to leave the department."

Dan Greensweig, the administrator for the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, said it's important that the PTSD diagnosis is correct.

"You want the diagnosis to be accurate because the treatment for PTSD is not the same treatment for depression, anxiety. And if we’re not getting the right treatment to the right people they’re not going to get better," Greensweig explained.

The League's trust fund provides Workers' Comp coverage to employees of smaller cities throughout the state. Greensweig says PTSD claims are also on the rise with first responders outside of the Twin Cities since PTSD became a covered injury in 2013.

"We’ve had about 295 claims since 2013, of those, about 150 of those have just been in the last three years. It’s almost entirely first responders. Most recently 83 percent of the claims have come from police, and about 17 percent from fire and other professions."

The League of Cities has promoted early mental health intervention and peer support programs in hopes of curbing the trend and keeping people healthier on the job.

"It’s not just the financial cost. There’s a human cost, and that’s really, ultimately, the most important thing," Greensweig remarked.

If they’re suffering, if they can’t participate fully, not only in their professions, but in their lives; that’s a loss to their families. That’s a loss to the community. It’s not sustainable, and frankly, it’s not the right thing to do by them."

Presumption of PTSD

The presumption of work-related PTSD applies to the following types of government employees:

  • Firefighters
  • Paramedics and EMTs
  • Licensed nurses who provide emergency medical services outside of a medical facility.
  • Public Safety dispatchers
  • Correctional officers
  • Security counselors at jails and secure treatment facilities
  • Sheriffs and full-time deputy sheriffs
  • State Patrol troopers

By state law, PTSD must still be diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and must meet the description of PTSD in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The employer or insurer can bring evidence to rebut the presumption. PTSD is not considered an occupational disease or injury if it results from the following situations:

  • Disciplinary action
  • Work evaluation
  • Job transfer
  • Layoff, demotion, promotion, termination, retirement

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