Reps. O’Mara, Scott, Khan, and Mayor Tuerk call for passage of bill focusing on first responders’ mental health

HARRISBURG, May 2 — State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, joined by state first responder organizations, fellow government officials, and activists called for the passage of House Bill 1632 in the Capitol’s Main Rotunda.

Her legislation would add Post-Traumatic Stress Injury as an eligible claim for first responders filing for workers’ compensation. O’Mara said her measure, echoed by colleagues on both sides of the aisle and first responders, demonstrates the importance of destigmatizing mental health care – especially among police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel. About one third of emergency responders develop mental health conditions due to the nature of their work.

“When I was a teenager, I lost my dad – a Philadelphia firefighter – to gun suicide. Depression and PTSI are treatable conditions not ‘a part of the job.’ House Bill 1632 works to ensure other Pennsylvania families don’t suffer the same loss that my family did,” O’Mara said. “Access to mental health services should be readily available and strongly encouraged, particularly for first responders, who we rely on to keep us safe. This bill works toward that by making high-quality, consistent care more accessible following a PTSI diagnosis.”

“Our first responders are the backbone of our communities, rushing into dangerous and traumatic situations to keep us safe. Their selfless service often takes a toll on their mental well-being and receiving the care they need can be blocked by barriers and proof of ‘abnormal working conditions’,” said Rep. Greg Scott, D-Montgomery. “That's why we're fighting to change it. Providing workers’ compensation for PTSI will ensure that first responders have the resources and time they need to recover and continue serving our communities.”

“I’ve treated first responders as a family nurse practitioner, and I’ve seen effects of PTSI on their health. Like a broken arm or leg, these injuries need time and support to heal. This bipartisan bill will help our firefighters, paramedics and police get the critical support they need to get well and get back to work serving our community,” Rep. Tarik Khan, D-Phila., said. “I am grateful to Rep. O’Mara for her tenacious and effective leadership on this bill, and proud to be a co-prime sponsor.”

“The bravery that is displayed by our firefighters, our police and our paramedics does not come sometimes without a cost,” Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk said. “Mental health impacts homelessness and can reduce quality of life in our communities, and mayors across the country deeply understand how important mental health is to their stakeholders. Those stakeholders include residents, but also employees. Those employees include police, paramedics, and firefighters … Bills like this care for the health needs of all of our employees – especially first responders.”

“Professional firefighters are men and women in our communities. They are sons and daughters. They have families. And they dedicate their lives to protecting us - including everyone in this building. It’s time that our legislature takes the steps necessary to protect them,” Robert Brooks, president of the Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association said.

The bill as amended has been re-committed to the House Appropriations Committee and is poised for final consideration in the Pennsylvania House.

Photos from the event are available on O’Mara’s website.