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Bill seeks to lower number of PTSD retirements among cops

Hundreds of officers have left the Minneapolis Police Department since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

And, Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls) said, almost 80% of those officers say the reason for leaving is post-traumatic stress disorder.

That’s a crisis of immense proportion, not just for Minneapolis, because police agencies statewide are also dealing with unprecedented PTSD retirements, Long said.

He sponsors HF4026, which would eliminate an incentive created by a 2019 state law allowing cops, firefighters, and other first responders to retire without first seeking treatment for PTSD that could get some of them back on the job.

“We want officers to get the help they need, we want them to get treatment, and we want them to return to work,” Long said. “And that’s not happening right now.”

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee on Tuesday laid the bill over for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Long said Sen. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville) plans to introduce a Senate companion soon.

The current system for processing and addressing duty disability benefits is often contrary to the goal of restoring employees to good health and returning them to work, Long said.

The bill would require 32 weeks of PTSD treatment before applying for regular duty disability benefits.

“We know that PTSD is a manageable condition for most with the proper treatment,” he said. “In fact, the evidence shows PTSD can be treated with a high success rate.”

The high number of PTSD-related retirements impose an “immense cost” on city budgets, said Centerville Mayor D. Love. “If we don’t address this problem, many smaller communities won’t be able to afford public safety services and will have to rely on someone else to provide those services for them.”

“The fiscal impact of the increasing number of claims is unsustainable for employers and, ultimately, taxpayers,” wrote the League of Minnesota Cities in a joint statement with three other municipal organizations.

The bill would appropriate an unspecified amount of money to the Department of Public Safety to reimburse employers for the cost of continuing benefits and backfilling a public safety officer position for up to 32 weeks of required PTSD treatment.

An unspecified amount of money would also be appropriated to reimburse employers for the cost of continuing health insurance coverage for eligible public safety officers receiving regular duty disability.

Chris Steward, founder of Heroes Helping Heroes and a former Minneapolis police officer, was diagnosed with PTSD in June 2020.

He opposes the bill because it would force officers who are suffering PTSD to remain on the job until they could get a workers’ compensation determination.

“This bill would force cops back into the closet regarding PTSD and they would not get the help needed,” he said.

Preventing PTSD in the first place is an important goal of the bill, Long said.

To that end, the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board would be required to create learning objectives and a training course to prepare police officers for the stressful and traumatic events that are common to policing and teach officers methods to process and cope with occupational stress and trauma.

Both students studying law enforcement and licensed police officers would be required to receive the training.

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