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May Uptown Preview - Help available for first responders

​Uptown Preview


During the 2017 legislative session, the S.C. General Assembly approved funds for the second year in a row to help first responders suffering from mental health issues caused by work-related stress.

Despite the General Assembly’s action on this issue in 2017, budgetary shortfalls discovered after the session plus uncertainty about gubernatorial vetoes initially left law enforcement and first responder organizations around the state wondering whether those funds would materialize in 2018. Ultimately, the funds weren’t negatively affected by the shortfall or a veto, and the State Law Enforcement Division, the managing agency, received the funds in January. 

“This was a win for all,” said Melissa Carter, research and legislative liaison for the Municipal Association. “Public safety professionals get the resources they need to return to their passion rather than having to go on disability. At the same time, cities retain good folks.”

The state fund of $500,000 covers paid employees and volunteers who serve as law enforcement officers, firefighters or emergency medical responders. The benefit provides coverage for out-of-pocket expenses that first responders incur after suffering a psychiatric or mental stress illness resulting from a single emergency incident or active engagement in multiple emergency incidents.

To qualify for the benefit, the first responder must be receiving care by a licensed physician, counselor or clinician, and the care must be appropriate for the condition causing the psychiatric or mental stress. The benefit also provides training and prevention opportunities to help save, protect, and retain first responders.

The funding helps cities and towns manage their budgets, too, by addressing the so-called mental-mental issues of public safety rather than treating it as a condition to be a covered workers’ compensation injury.
 
“It really is a pleasingly ingenious and simple solution,” said Tiger Wells, government affairs liaison for the Municipal Association.

“Rather than create a potentially problematic loophole in the state’s workers’ comp law that would make it easier to bring a successful claim for mental injury, this solution actually directly addresses the financial hurdles that have far too often become a barrier to first responders receiving the restorative care they need.”

The funding focuses on more than psychological care after an incident, however. The benefit also provides training and prevention opportunities intended to protect first responders and to retain them in their department.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program provides assistance to those first responders suffering from stress related illnesses.

“The funding is essential for mental health of our first responders,” said Zorrina Harmon, benefits director for the South Carolina State Firefighters’ Association. “Without a mechanism for assistance, recovery is difficult and retention is practically impossible."

For benefit information and claim forms for law enforcement staff, contact Eric Skidmore with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program at 803.252.2664 or eskidmore@sled.sc.gov.

To access this benefit information and claim forms for firefighters or emergency medical responders, contact Zorrina Harmon, benefits director for the South Carolina State Firefighters’ Association at 803.807.1099 or zorrina@scfirefighters.org.