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Nova Scotia NDP frustrated with PTSD inaction


January 5, 2016
By The Canadian Press

Jan. 5, 2016, Halifax - Manitoba's move to recognize post-traumatic stress as a work-related disease has a Nova Scotia politician wondering what happened to a government promise to look at more ways to help emergency workers such as police, firefighters and paramedics in his province.

The third party NDP introduced a bill in October 2014 calling for all current and former emergency responders to receive automatic or presumptive coverage for a PTSD diagnosis under workers compensation.

The governing Liberals appeared receptive at the time, with Health Minister Leo Glavine saying that an all-party committee would be struck to examine ways to support first responders dealing with the mental health issue.

Glavine said the committee would submit a report to the government before the spring 2015 session of the legislature.

NDP house leader Dave Wilson, who introduced the bill, said there's been no committee formed and he's heard little about the government's plans over the past 15 months.

"I'm quite frustrated by the whole process,'' said Wilson, a former paramedic with nine years' experience in the field.

Changes to Manitoba's Workers Compensation Act, which took effect Jan. 1, make anyone who is diagnosed by a medical professional after a job-related trauma eligible for treatment and compensation.

Wilson believes Nova Scotia's first responders are getting coverage, but only to a certain extent.

"It's usually after a long hard-fought battle which is the last thing they need when they are trying to get better from PTSD,'' he said.

Labour Minister Kelly Regan said the government will have "more to say'' about PTSD later this year – but she added that work has been done that didn't require legislation to clarify "confusion'' around workers compensation rules related to psychological injuries.

She said first responders are eligible for help within a year of being diagnosed for PTSD, even if the condition is linked to a traumatic event that may have happened several years before.

Previously, she said some people mistakenly believed the diagnosis had to occur within a year of the traumatic event.

Regan also said PTSD has been given its own category instead of being listed as a psychological injury so the board can better track the number of cases affecting first responders.

She said there are more changes to come, although she wouldn't be specific.

"Absolutely, we are watching what is going on across the country to see what other jurisdictions are doing,'' she said. "We do have research underway looking into this particular issue.''

Vince Savoia, a former paramedic and advocate who assists first responders through the Tema Conter Memorial Trust Fund, believes governments have no choice but to take a serious look at the problem.

He said there were 39 confirmed suicides by first responders in 2015, and another 27 in 2014.

"What the presumptive legislation will do for the first responder is allow them to get treatment they need sooner rather than later,'' he said.

PTSD is treated as a presumptive condition under changes to workers compensation laws in British Columbia and Alberta, while Ontario and New Brunswick are currently examining laws that contain changes similar to Manitoba's.