Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Minnesota State Troopers and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is extremely common amongst our State’s first responders, including State Troopers. It is a psychological condition that can occur as the result of exposure to extreme trauma – usually involving exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence, either by directly experiencing the traumatic event, witnessing the event, learning that the event occurred to a close family member or a friend, or being exposed to the details and aftermath of the event. For peace officers, this often involves repeated traumatic exposures through a person’s career in law enforcement.

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include the following:

Intrusion symptoms. These symptoms can include recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event, recurrent distressing dreams or nightmares, flashbacks, or physiological and/or psychological distress when faced “triggers” that remind a person of the event.
Avoidance symptoms and behaviors. This includes the avoidance of, or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the traumatic event, or avoidance of, or efforts to avoid external reminders, such as people, places, activities, objects, or situations, that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, feelings associated with the traumatic event.
Negative alterations in cognitions and/or mood associated with the traumatic event. This can include dissociative amnesia, or an inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event, persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world, persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others, persistent negative emotional state, such as fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame, markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities, feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, or persistent inability to experience positive emotions.
Arousal symptoms. These symptoms can include irritable behavior and angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behavior, hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, problems with concentration, or sleep disturbance.

While things have improved over the last decade or so, unfortunately, there is still a significant stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues. This is particularly so amongst law enforcement, where people experience feelings of guilt or shame about seeking help for mental health issues. Far too often, peace officers wait until a crisis has occurred before getting help. That could be a run-in with the law, such as a DWI, a gambling problem that reaches a crisis level, an alcohol problem that reaches a tipping point, a break down in marital relations, trouble at work – such as use of excessive force complaints – or even, sadly, a threat of suicide or a suicide attempt. Please do not wait until there is a crisis to get help!

We frequently speak with peace officers who explain that they’ve put off seeking medical help because they thought they would just “get over it” with time, that they were afraid of what their colleagues and superiors would say, or they were afraid that they would lose their job if their employer found out that they were seeking mental health treatment. Getting help early on gives you the best chance of a full recovery to allow you to continue on in your career. We can help you arrange a confidential evaluation with a medical professional experienced with helping law enforcement personnel.

Armed with more information about your condition, and recommendations regarding medical care, you can then make an informed decision as to how best to proceed. If you wait until a crisis occurs, you may lose the ability to have some level of control over your future. At that point, if your employer requests that you undergo a Fitness for Duty Evaluation, and you are found to be unfit for duty due to a psychological condition, you’re already two steps behind the ball.

Know that a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder does not necessarily mean the end of your career. It also doesn’t mean financial ruin. If you cannot return to law enforcement as the result of a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expenses benefits and wage loss benefits, as well as State Patrol Plan Duty Disability Benefits and Continuation of Health Insurance Benefits under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be somewhat more complicated to handle in the Minnesota workers’ compensation system than other types of injuries. If you believe you may have work-related post-traumatic stress disorder, or you have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, please consider consulting with a workers’ compensation attorney who has experience handling PTSD claims on behalf of State Troopers before filing your claim to ensure your rights are protected. For a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation, contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. today at 1-877-746-5680.

Jennifer Yackleyby Jen Yackley
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