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Workers’ compensation mental health coverage in Connecticut

The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut produced the need for mental health care in many first responders who witnessed the horrific scene. Since the first responders' needs for mental health care arose due to experiences they had on the job, many people assume that they will be able to receive workers' compensation. Unfortunately, some types of mental health issues are not considered compensable injuries according to Connecticut's workers' compensation law.

Three types of mental injuries

A few years ago, Connecticut changed the law that defines what constitutes a mental injury for purposes of qualifying for workers' compensation benefits. Generally, mental injuries can be classified into one of three categories. First, some injuries are considered "mental mental" injuries. A mental mental injury occurs when something causes a person to have a mental health issue. For example, first responders who observed Sandy Hook and as a result experience mental health issues have a mental mental injury.

Second, an injury can be a "mental physical" injury. A mental physical injury occurs when a person has a mental thought that results in a physical reaction that causes injury. Again using Sandy Hook as an example, a first responder who observed the scene and found it so horrible that he or she suffered a heart attack would have a mental physical injury.

Finally, an injury can be considered a "physical mental" injury. A physical mental injury occurs when a person is physically injured and as a result, experiences mental health issues. For an example, if a first responder had been shot or otherwise injured while responding to a shooting, he or she would have suffered a physical injury. However, the traumatic experience and physical injury could cause him or her to have an emotional or "mental" injury as well.

Which types of injuries are covered by workers' compensation?

All employees in Connecticut are covered by workers' compensation, including employees who work part-time, minors and non-citizens. In order to receive workers' compensation benefits, a person must have suffered an injury on the job or have an occupational disease.

A few years ago, Connecticut changed its workers' compensation laws so that a "mental mental" injury is no longer considered an injury under the workers' compensation act. However, the change affected "mental mental" injuries only, and "physical mental" and "mental physical" injuries are still compensable through workers' compensation. For example, under the new law, post traumatic stress disorder is covered by workers' compensation in some instances, but not if it results from observing a horrific scene without the addition of a physical injury.

Unfortunately, the types of mental health issues many of the first responders to Sandy Hook are experiencing fall under the classification of "mental mental" injuries and no special provisions exist for those employed as police or firemen who experience job-related mental health issues, although there are special provisions for people in these occupations who experience heart issues or hypertension. As a result, the mental health issues may not be considered injuries for purposes of workers' compensation.

The Chairman of the Workers' Compensation Commission has expressed regret that the care needed by many of the Sandy Hook first responders falls into a "mental mental" area and is not a compensable injury. A number of bills are presently pending in the Connecticut General Assembly seeking to address this problem.

What to do if you are injured on the job?

If you are injured on the job or suffer an occupational disease, you may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Workers' compensation provides employees with payments for medical treatment and monetary benefits during the time of disability to replace wages and help injured workers care for their families, as well as vocational rehabilitation. If you have questions about whether you are entitled to workers' compensation, it is a good idea to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible after an injury.

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