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Lawmakers could better workers' compensation for first responders

In an emergency, the first responders are our heroes.

They run into burning buildings, treat the victims of gunshot wounds or horrific accidents and confront those intent on doing harm, putting their own lives on the line.

But those firefighters, EMS workers and police officers experience human emotions to tragedies the way we all do.

Frequent exposure to trauma and tragedy has a lasting effect on first responders, causing greater incidents of mental illness and suicide in that profession than in others. In fact, a 2018 study by The Ruderman Family Foundation showed that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are five times more likely among first responders than the rest of the population.

A sobering thought: Police officers and firefighters are more likely to die from suicide than be killed in the line of duty.

The Ruderman study showed that only 3 to 5 percent of the nation's law enforcement agencies offer training programs for suicide prevention.

Oklahoma lawmakers could be providing help.

When the legislative session begins on Feb. 4, lawmakers will consider a pair of proposed bills to help Oklahoma's first responders.

House Bill 2271, sponsored by Rep. Josh West (R-Grove), would add coverage for PTSD to the workers' compensation law for first responders. Senate Bill 836, authored by Sen. James Leewright (R-Bristow), would allow mental injury benefits for volunteer firefighters.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the first responders who keep Oklahomans safe. There are a number of workers' compensation benefits available to them, but it seems fitting that mental health issues should be among them.

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