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Conn. Bill Expands Worker’s Compensation Law

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Newtown, Connecticut. (Photo by WTIC's Nicole Jacques.)

Newtown, Connecticut. (Photo by WTIC’s Nicole Jacques.)

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By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The Newtown Police officer who has not yet returned to work since the 2012 school massacre because of post-traumatic stress disorder urged Connecticut lawmakers on Tuesday to expand the state’s workers’ compensation law to cover the condition.

Thomas Bean, a 38-year-old married father of two, said he’s unable to return to his law enforcement career and faces an uncertain financial future. He told members of the General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee that he has experienced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts since responding to the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead.

“I can’t even touch a gun,” he said.

Bean is receiving about half of his base pay through Newtown’s long-term disability insurance plan, but that policy is due to end in June 2015. If he were receiving worker’ compensation benefits for his PTSD, Bean would get more than 66 percent of his net pay, including an average of overtime pay, tax-free.

Bean has been at odds with the town over his absence. Last year, he faced possible termination but that recommendation was later rescinded. And while Newtown officials say Bean is due half his salary under the disability plan for two years, the local police union contends the police contract calls for half pay for 13 years, when Bean reaches retirement.

“It’s a constant reminder of what happened to me,” Bean said of the controversy. “So I’m always being re-traumatized because I don’t know what my future is.”

There are two bills moving through the legislature this session that would require workers’ compensation coverage for mental trauma in the wake of intentional violent events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The bill discussed Tuesday would provide such coverage to only state or municipal employees diagnosed with PTSD after witnessing such an event or its aftermath, in connection with their employment.

A second bill, recently approved by the Labor and Public Employees Committee, is considered broader and would affect all employees who witness an intentional death or maiming, or the aftermath. It requires coverage for an emotional or mental impairment and not just PTSD.

Advocates say efforts were made to tighten both bills since last session, when legislative leaders decided instead to create a special charitable fund to financially assist employees affected by the Newtown school shooting. For example, each bill requires a worker to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or psychologist and the acts of violent events must be intentional.

But Robert Labanara Jr., state relations manager for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said this year’s bills are still expensive for cities and towns, which would have to provide full wage replacement in some cases.

“It still would cost money” he said. “These diagnoses are still subjective. It could overlap with existing symptoms of depression and other anxiety disorders.”

Labanara told lawmakers there already are some mental health benefits on the books for police and fire personnel affected by such traumatic events, as well as employee assistance programs and private health insurance coverage.

“Injuries from the neck up are not ignored at the town level,” he said, adding how “the town of Newtown has negotiated above and beyond contractual obligations for the officers that responded” to Sandy Hook. Labanara said if the state wants expand workers’ compensation coverage, it needs to help reimburse cities and towns.

Paul Rapanault, director of legislative and political affairs for the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut, said the state’s old workers’ compensation law used to cover job-related mental injuries for police and fire personnel. But in 1993, the law was overhauled to cut costs.

Christopher Tracy, assistant chief of the Fairfield Fire Department, said he wants to see a return to that broader coverage, but right now is focusing on helping those workers affected by traumatic intentional acts of violence.

“I’d love to see that,” he said. “But frankly, there’s so much push-back on these enormous threatened expenses to municipalities, that we won’t see that. So, at the very least, can we recognize that the Boston bombing, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and Sandy Hook are unique. … They’re exceptional and they need some compensation.”

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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