Importance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness in the Workplace

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that affects approximately eight million people in the United States, including first-responders, military personnel, health care professionals, and firefighters. When a worker experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, the shock of the trauma can cause debilitating symptoms after the event. If left untreated, the symptoms can be quite severe, making it difficult for the individual to perform daily activities, interact with family and friends, or hold down a job.

Understanding PTSD is the first step to treating it. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs created a wide range of materials to help people understand basic information about PTSD, treatment and support options, and how family and friends can help. Each day of the month focuses on different ways to raise awareness, including testimonials from veterans, information about trauma related to PTSD, and how it affects family members.

What are Common Symptoms of PTSD?

Mental health conditions should be taken just as seriously as physical injuries and illnesses. There are a wide range of symptoms that people with PTSD may experience, including the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Easily startled
  • Emotional detachment
  • Flashbacks
  • Hyperarousal
  • Irritability
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Self-destructive, violent behavior

Oftentimes, the extreme mental and emotional stress can cause victims of PTSD to suffer physical symptoms as well. In fact, studies show that up to 30 percent of PTSD patients experience chronic pain. Other physical symptoms include the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Ulcers
  • Vomiting

Who is at Risk for Developing PTSD?

PTSD often occurs when a worker is exposed to a serious injury, sexual violence, a violent act, or a devastating fatality. Workers who are at an increased risk of developing PTSD include the following:

  • Military Personnel: Veterans have some of the highest rates of PTSD. In addition to the trauma of war, men and women in the military are also affected by sexual trauma. In fact, 55 percent of women and 38 percent of men said that they had been sexually harassed while serving.
  • Police Officers: This should come as no surprise, since police officers are exposed to a range of potentially violent threats and extremely stressful conditions on any given day. If a police department has poor leadership or workplace discrimination, the rates of PTSD are likely to be much higher.
  • Firefighters: In addition to the dangers associated with putting out fires, firefighters also perform paramedic work. These circumstances can expose them to traumatic circumstances and fatalities on a regular basis.
  • First Responders: Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and ambulance personnel witness traumatic events, such as shootings, car accidents, and natural disasters.
  • Health Care Professionals: Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are at risk for PTSD, particularly those who work in intensive care units and emergency departments and those who are exposed to threats of violence from patients or their family.

Who can File a Workers’ Compensation Claim for PTSD?

From a Workers’ Compensation perspective, mental or psychological problems that are work-related are categorized into the following claims:

  • Physical-Mental: When a physical injury progresses and includes a mental injury or disability
  • Mental-Physical: When a mental condition causes a physical injury or disability
  • Mental-Mental: When a mental injury arises despite there being no physical injury

Workers’ Compensation considers PTSD a mental-mental claim, as it is a mental health condition that results from a mental or psychological condition at work. Mental-mental claims can be more challenging to prove compared to physical-mental claims that involve a physical injury. Workers’ Compensation benefits for PTSD will depend on the severity. Therefore, it is important that the worker keep a detailed record of all symptoms and seek medical attention for treatment.

How is a Workers’ Compensation Claim Filed?

As with any other workplace injury, it is important that employees talk to their employer as soon as possible. If an employee waits too long or fails to include important information, they could miss an important deadline and lose the right to file a claim. The employer should provide workers with the necessary forms to file a Workers’ Compensation claim. Depending on the severity of the PTSD, and the symptoms the employee is experiencing, Workers’ Compensation benefits may cover lost wages, coverage of all medical treatment related to the PTSD, and compensation for permanent mental health services if the employee does not fully recover.

Is it Difficult to Prove PTSD?

When a Workers’ Compensation claim is based on work-related PTSD, it is likely that the employer’s insurance company will investigate the details of the case closely, particularly if the employee filed previous Workers’ Compensation claims. To confirm that the employee’s symptoms are legitimate and related to a qualifying workplace incident, investigators may interview coworkers, check credit reports, and review previous mental health issues that appear on medical records, even if a psychiatrist or psychologist gave a formal PTSD diagnosis.

The best way for an employee to prove that he or she is suffering from PTSD is to seek treatment as soon as symptoms appear and continue consistent treatment with a trained professional. This does not always happen because the symptoms of PTSD generally do not appear until months after the traumatic event. Although this can make it difficult to prove that PTSD is work-related, medical records from the treating physician will be extremely helpful. In addition, statements from family, friends, and coworkers about behavior changes that they observed since the traumatic event will also help prove that the PTSD is work-related.

What Benefits are Available for PTSD?

If the Workers’ Compensation claim is approved, all costs associated with treating the PTSD will likely be covered. In severe cases of PTSD, the worker may be unable to carry out simple daily activities or complete regular job responsibilities. If this is the case, in addition to lost wages and compensation for medical treatment, the employee may also qualify for the following:

  • Temporary Disability Benefits: The employee can expect to receive two-thirds of his or her average weekly wage, up to a weekly maximum. For employees who are able to go back to work on a limited basis, the compensation amount is usually two-thirds of the lost income, or the difference between the worker’s wage prior to the injury and what he or she is currently earning. The employee will be able to continue collecting benefits until his or her doctor says it is safe to return to work, or until the worker has reached the limit.
  • Permanent Disability Benefits: If the work-related illness or injury is not expected to improve, and the employee cannot return to work at all, these benefits may be available. To qualify for permanent disability benefits, a qualified medical professional must confirm that he or she has reached maximal medical improvement (MMI), meaning that the worker is not expected to improve any further with additional treatment. Once the employee has reached MMI, the insurance company may request an independent medical examination to confirm that permanent disability benefits are warranted. After the doctor confirms the disability with the insurance company, the employee should start to receive benefits within two weeks. An experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer can explain the benefit options and recommend the best course of action.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Secure Maximum Benefits for Workers Suffering from PTSD

If you or someone you know is suffering from work-related PTSD, contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. Mental health issues can be just as debilitating as physical injuries. Our dedicated legal team will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive the maximum financial benefits you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.