The legislation aims to stem the tide of Minnesota police officers retiring with PTSD

A Republican state senator and a member of the DFL House of Representatives have teamed up to stem the tide of Minnesota law enforcement officers claiming post-traumatic stress disorder and retiring early — rather than first trying treatment that could get them back to work .

The bill may require workers to seek treatment for mental injuries before claiming a “disability benefit.”

Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill should be introduced soon, with an accompanying bill in the upper chamber coming from Sen. John Howe, R-Rockville.

“Our goals are first and foremost the treatment of officers,” Long said. “We know that PTSD is a treatable condition.”

The passage requires navigating a complex public safety political environment: Republicans have embraced police unions in recent years and are already attacking Democrats as anti-police in the run-up to the election. Democratic lawmakers also need convincing, as they traditionally side with public sector unions on key issues such as wages and benefits. However, local government officials are desperate for a solution to the skyrocketing costs.

In Minneapolis, which Long represents, hundreds of police officers have left the force, many retired because of PTSD disabilities.

The number of emergency workers claiming a disability pension from the State Pension Fund tripled following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020, which sparked widespread protests, rioting and arson. Most are police officers who say they are unable to do their jobs because of PTSD, according to data from the state Public Employees Pension Fund.

The situation rings “alarm bells” about the stress of the job, a lack of staff and the Effects on the city budget‘ said Long.

“It’s not really sustainable to essentially pay for two police forces,” he said, referring to the early retirees plus the existing police force. “So it’s in everyone’s interest to work together.”

By last fall, about 300 Minneapolis police officers had Left the department since 2020, including about 130 patrol officers – that corresponds to the staff of an entire district. In addition, about 40 officials were on a kind of permanent leave, e.g. B. on sick leave, so that about 600 officials were available for work. The city spent about $12 million on overtime last year while struggling with staff shortages.

Most disability claims are approved thanks to a 2019 state law that says a worker’s post-traumatic stress disorder is presumably work-related. Equipped with a disability pension, many workers also apply for a disability pension. Both together result in a full salary.

The bill may require workers to claim workers’ compensation before claiming a disability pension, although unions oppose that provision because workers’ comp scheme is more controversial than PERA.

Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services — the state’s largest law enforcement union — said the bill has been revised in recent days and he expects more revisions to be made before it is introduced.

“The concept has some advantages,” he said. “How it is implemented is the other problem.”

All but nine Minnesota cities receive worker’s compensation coverage through the League’s Insurance Trust, but he said nearly all PTSD worker compensation claims are denied by the League of Cities, which is why workers go to PERA first. Since January 2019, 94% of disability insurance claims have been denied by the league, about half due to disputed diagnoses.

“If you want them to go back to work, then approve workers’ compensation,” Mortenson said.

The League’s Insurance Trust Administrator Dan Greensweig said if you take out 2021, which has many outstanding claims, the League has made sickness or compensation (lost time) payments for about half of the public safety PTSD claims received since 2013.

Rep. Long is pushing the bill because he represents Minneapolis, Mortenson said, but Minneapolis is self-insured so workers’ claims are processed by the city, not the league. The city has approved more than $18 million in compensation payments to workers since Floyd’s killing.

“If it weren’t for the Minneapolis incident (Floyd’s murder) … we probably wouldn’t be having these conversations,” Mortenson said.

Anne Finn, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities, said that anything the Legislature does to affect the workers’ compensation system is subject to scrutiny by worker groups.

Long said people who work with PTSD sufferers say avoidance is a big problem, so people often try to avoid treatment.

But many officers go straight for disability status and don’t receive treatment, he said, which isn’t optimal for officers’ mental health or staff-strapped departments.

If a worker receives a disability pension, state law requires cities to continue paying their health insurance until age 65. The can cost a city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the state reimburses only a portion of the cost. Cities are required to continue levels of employee health insurance (e.g., family insurance) until age 65. If the monthly premium is $1,500, that adds up to $360,000 over 20 years, not counting premium increases.

The bill would allow cities to be fully reimbursed by the state for health insurance benefits if they can show they have implemented preventive measures such as peer support and officer wellness programs.

The bill would also require wellness training in college police programs, in-service wellness training and require employees to remain financially “whole” while being treated for mental injuries.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs routinely treats people with PTSD, Long said, allowing many people to return to work.

“But the way we have set up our current disability system doesn’t provide or encourage that treatment in the same way that we see it for our veterans,” he said.

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