In the wake of school shooting, Connecticut legislator seeks to expand workers’ comp benefits for first responders

Last month, a horrific scene met first responders at an elementary school in a sleepy Connecticut town. In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, there is plenty of talk about legislation pertaining to mental health and gun control. Lawmakers in Connecticut, however, are adding another layer to the discussion: They want to see an expansion of workers’ compensation as it applies to first responders.

Representative Stephen D. Dargan (D-West Haven) is the co-chair of the state legislature’s public safety committee. He plans to propose legislation after the first of the year that will broaden the circumstances under which emergency personnel can receive workers’ comp in Connecticut.

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“This is something I’ve already discussed,” said Dargan, “I’m sure right after the holiday that this is going to be one of the bills that I am going to issue” for consideration. Connecticut’s next legislative session begins on January 9th.

This isn’t the first time that the topic of broadening their workers’ compensation law has been up for discussion. The big concern previously was the potential cost, according to Dargan. He notes that if the scope of an expansion were limited to extreme circumstances like the one encountered at Sandy Hook, it might just be possible to usher it in.

State law provides for workers’ compensation benefits to pay for the counseling of police officers who have suffered mental or emotional injury by “use of deadly force or subjection to deadly force in the line of duty. Firefighters have a provision covering them when they’ve witnessed the death of another firefighter in the line of duty.

Around half a dozen Newtown police officers were first responders to the Sandy Hook scene. They could hear the sound of Adam Lanza’s rifle being fired as they ran into the building, but none of them were subject to – or had to use — deadly force. Instead, they encountered twenty dead children and six women who had been shot to death.

“We have a lot of guys who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, but this is much different because it involves children and you see what happened to them and you see the faces of their families,” said State Police Colonel Daniel Stebbins, voicing his concerns about the officers that went into the school.

“Anybody who went into that building has to be affected. It is worse than anything we have ever experienced.” According to Stebbins, counselors have been available since the shooting.

Newtown Police Commissioner Joel T. Faxon is an attorney who supports the expansion of workers’ comp law for first responders. Though unsure if any of the Newton officers would apply for benefits, Faxon believes it’s important that they have that option.

In Georgia, as we’ve discussed in the past, there is no workers’ compensation claim for mental injury not preceded by a physical one, no matter how horrific the events witnessed by the responded. I’d like to see changes made in this regard, and certainly one would hope that changes in other states will make change here more probable.

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