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B.C government introduces new PTSD presumptive coverage

In BC, first responders, sheriffs,and correctional officers will no longer have to prove that their mental injury is work-related.

Ottawa (16 April 2018) — The British Columbia labour minister Harry Bains announced amendments on April 11 to the Workers Compensation Act that will add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental injuries to a list of presumptive conditions. This means workers will no longer be required to prove their disease or disorder is work related.

“I applaud the proposed amendments to the Workers Compensation Act announced by Minister Bains, building on the work begun by Minister Simpson and supported by Minister Darcy," said BCGEU/NUPGE President Stephanie Smith. "Making mental health, including PTSD, a presumptive condition is a long overdue show of common sense and compassion for first responders,” Smith added.

Who's covered, and who's not

In a statement, B.C. labour minister Harry Bains said, “First responders, sheriffs and both provincial and federal correctional officers who experience trauma on the job and are diagnosed with a mental disorder, should not have the added stress of having to prove that their disorder is work related, in order to receive support and compensation."

This legislation does not extend to call-takers and dispatchers, but Bains said his government “will consider over time expanding presumptions to other types of workers who experience traumatic events at work, as well as continuing to focus on overall workplace safety.”

What is presumptive coverage?

Presumptive coverage means that the diagnosis of PTSD and other mental injuries is assumed to have been the result of workplace trauma, thereby removing the onus on workers to prove that it was the result of some specific work-related events. This means that in B.C., when first responders, including sheriffs and correctional officers, who experience job-related trauma are diagnosed with a mental disorder, they will be able to get assistance without providing proof that the injury was related to their work.

Public safety personnel 4 times more likely to get PTSD

According to a 2018 study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, public safety personnel, including paramedics, police, firefighters, dispatchers and corrections officers, are 4 times more likely than the general population to screen positive for clinically significant symptoms consistent with one or more mental disorders.

According to the study, "paramedics report experiencing very high rates of exposure to human suffering for which they often feel responsible, potentiating substantial emotional stress" and have a higher incidence of positive screening than other public safety personnel. The study also notes that substantive differences in positive screening frequencies are evident among correctional workers "who engage with incarcerated persons in extraordinary environments that can reasonably be hypothesized to increase risk for developing a mental disorder."

BCGEU praises Robert Gagnon and other activists 

In a press release, the BCGEU/NUPGE President Stephanie Smith acknowledged the work of long-time BCGEU/NUPGE member Robert Gagnon, whose efforts helped make this possible. Gagnon, a corrections officer and Canadian Forces veteran, walked from Prince George to BC’s legislature last summer to raise awareness and support for veterans and first responders who suffer from PTSD.

“It's important to stay focused on how this change happened," said Smith. "Make no mistake, we are here today because of the efforts of activists. Activists like Robert and everyone else who raised their voice, told their story, and kept the pressure on in their own way. Activists make a difference. I'm lucky to be surrounded and inspired by them every day.”