TORONTO — Ontario unanimously passed legislation Tuesday recognizing post traumatic stress disorder as work-related illness for police, firefighters and paramedics.
Under the old rules, first responders had to prove their PTSD was related to their job to be eligible for coverage under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn beamed as legislation that assumes PTSD is work-related for first responders passed third and final reading by a vote of 96-to-0.
'Too many people are struggling'
"It was gratifying to look around the House and realize that by an action of this legislature, in a unanimous manner, we're able — I think — to change and affect lives in a really meaningful way," Flynn said.
"I think over the years we haven't dealt with those issues properly — and I don't mean us as a government, I mean society just hasn't paid enough attention to mental health issues in general."
Flynn said first responders are at least twice as likely as the general population to suffer from PTSD, and that the condition results in more suicide attempts than all other anxiety disorders.
The presumption also applies to certain workers in correctional institutions and secure youth justice facilities, dispatchers of police, firefighter and ambulance services and emergency response teams.
Once a first responder is diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, the claims process to be eligible for WSIB benefits will be expedited, added Flynn.
NDP wants broader scope
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown called the bill a step forward for first responders suffering from PTSD, and said he hopes it will save lives.
"Too many people are struggling, fighting with WSIB to get treatment," said Brown. "It doesn't happen often, but when it does there has to be treatment available."
New Democrat Cheri DiNovo, who introduced five different bills trying to extend WSIB coverage to first responders with PTSD, says she'd like to see it expanded to include nurses, special constables, bailiffs and parole officers.
"We would like to see some broadening of the scope," Di Novo told the legislature.
The Tories said they tried to expand the bill to include coverage for nurses with PTSD, but it was voted down by the Liberal government.
The bill does include nurses who work in Ontario's jails and detention centres.
"Where a nurse is engaged in a first-responder situation, which we believe they are in corrections, we've extended coverage to those people," said Flynn.
The NDP said it was "sad" that the new bill does not allow workers who have their claims rejected by the WSIB to re-open the claim.
'Heroes' written out of bill: DiNovo
"I think that's truly a missed opportunity because many of the people whose stories brought us to this place had claims rejected by WSIB," said DiNovo.
"Those are the heroes, and they are written out of this bill."
DiNovo told the legislature the story of a suicidal firefighter who called her office in distress looking for help, but said he didn't want them calling other first responders to deal with his situation.
"He knew what it was like to be a first responder and go to a suicide call. He didn't want his brothers and sisters doing what he had had to do that brought on his own post traumatic stress disorder," she said. "We phoned first responders to go to the house of a first responder to prevent that suicide."
A group representing paramedics said the new legislation will go a long way to reduce the stigma associated with PTSD and to ensuring first responders get help and treatment before it is too late.
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