Latest News

Work continues on bill to expand number of professionals who may diagnose PTSD for first responder workers’ compensation claims

By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A bill that would expand the number of professionals who can diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in first responders for workers’ compensation claims has been moved out of the House Committee on Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services, but continued work on the bill may be needed before it makes it into law. 

On Thursday, HB 4698 was advanced to the House Health and Human Resources Committee after considerable discussion. 

The bill makes changes to current law which states that only a psychiatrist may now make a PTSD diagnosis. Instead, this bill would broaden that to include a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist or licensed social worker, provided that they hold at least a master’s degree or terminal license and are qualified to treat PTSD. 

Juliet Terry, representing the Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) Association, was present to answer questions regarding the bill. 

In response to a question from Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, about specific PTSD training for providers, Terry said that PTSD does fall within their scope of practice. 

 “LPC’s are your master’s level mental health professionals,” Terry explained. “A lot of them do specialize in PTSD specifically for veterans and also for first responders.” 

Terry said that due to the shortage of licensed psychiatrists and psychologists in West Virginia, the “expansion would provide greater access to a network of licensed professionals who can do this work.” 

Terry added this bill would not affect all departments. It would only affect those that add PTSD coverage to their proof of insurance through either workers’ compensation, or traditional coverage. 

“If they do not add that in, then the claim cannot even be attempted,” Terry noted.

Del. Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, the bill’s lead sponsor, stated the bill has been “worked on” for years, and it was crafted to ensure that it would need “bought into.” He asked if this bill still gives employers and county commissions the option of providing this coverage. 

Terry responded that they would retain that option. 

“We crafted it that narrowly to avoid unfunded mandates on departments,” Terry said. “From the LPC’s perspective, obviously seeing a big, dramatic rise just in awareness, frankly, of the mental health concerns of the first responder community, that is where our interest lies and why we spoke to you during interims as well.” 

Myron Boggess, president of Professional Firefighters of West Virginia, spoke next. 

He stated that this coverage is widely provided.

“I’m from Charleston,” Boggess said. “I know Charleston has opted to have that in their coverage. I can’t speak for every city, but I know there’s three or four other cities that I know of that have not opted into that yet.”

Boggess added that he understands the bill to mean coverage for all first responders, but volunteer fire departments pay for their own workers’ compensation, and it would raise their coverage rates.  

In response to a question about how PTSD affects first responders, Boggess said that it varies. 

“There’s different levels of post traumatic stress. In my opinion, some [first responders] need counseling and others suffer,” Boggess said, adding that some commit suicide. 

”That’s the number one cause of ‘In the Line of Duty’ death nationwide,” Boggess stated. 

Following passage of an amendment to the bill to allow psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners to be added to the list of those who may diagnose PTSD, delegates discussed the importance of getting this bill through the legislative process. 

Committee Vice Chair Del. Clay Riley, R-Harrison, said there are still unanswered questions and work that must be accomplished on the bill, including adding a fiscal note. 

“This is part of the process, and I’m really glad that we’ve taken it up,” Riley said. 

Del. Statler said he urges passage of this “critical” bill. 

“We are seeing an increase in first responders out in the field needing mental health,” Statler said, adding that more employers may start to opt in to this type of coverage if the bill passes.

“There is a cost associated with it,” Statler continued, “but I would say to you that we have a cost associated if we don’t do something to help the ones that need help. But, it may not be that they go off and need payment. Let’s remember, they also get medical coverage to help for some of the problems that they’re suffering.” 

Del. D. Rolland Jennings, R-Preston, added this bill is very much needed, and it might be worth it to bypass the second reference to the House Finance Committee. 

“The reason I was asking about the cost, the cost will be on the company itself. It will not be from here, because if they raise the rate because they have to cover PTSD, it’ll be on them,” Jennings said. 

Del. Summers added there are some concerns that the Finance Committee could talk about regarding workers compensation issues, and that she will discuss this with the Finance Chair. 

Statler concluded he is worried that there isn’t enough time left in the session to see the bill through. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are on the clock,” Statler said. “So let’s make sure that we keep this out there and get it passed.” 

The committee also advanced HB 5355, which gives volunteer fire departments the ability to use funds from the Fire Protection Fund to cover expenses as they transition to use of the State Auditor’s fiscal reporting system “West Virginia Checkbook.” 

According to the bill, expenses include “programming, the use of a Certified Public Accountant, and other technology and associated expenses.” 

This bill is now headed to the House Committee on Government Organization. 

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address