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Viewpoint: Setting PTSD record straight

Cam Winton is director of energy and labor/management policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Dan Schoen should be commended for his public service and his commitment to his constituencies. In his viewpoint, however — "Fighting to make PTSD a workplace illness," May 17 — he makes a number of incorrect statements. The following information gives a clearer picture of the full story.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce represents 2,300 employers of all sizes and types across Minnesota. We are truly grateful to the state's first responders for their bravery and service. We recognize that their willingness to keep people and property safe enables our private enterprise system to exist.

We all share the goal of better screening, identification and support for first-responders experiencing work-related PTSD. The problem is real and demands solutions.

To that point, since the very day the Minnesota Chamber became aware of this matter, we've been working with cities, counties, the Legislature and the senator himself to support policies and programs that would help prevent first-responders from experiencing PTSD in the first place; and if needed, provide those individuals with care and treatment.

The senator knows all of these facts, because we brought key stakeholders together for a meeting in his office. The chamber has provided him and his staff with extensive resources on the topic. Throughout, we have shared our goal of having the employers of first responders address their needs more effectively, rather than putting the burden on the broader workers' compensation system.

Compared with the real problem of first responders experiencing PTSD, the topic of the proper process for developing workers' compensation law in Minnesota is pretty dry. But when you're making laws, process matters. Since 1992, elected officials, employers and organized labor have met on the Workers' Compensation Advisory Council to consider all proposals to change workers' compensation law and then jointly recommend changes to the Legislature. Minnesota law puts the Minnesota Chamber on the WCAC, which is why we're involved in evaluating this proposal at all. For 25 years, the WCAC has served as a valuable checkpoint to ensure that any changes have support from employers and organized labor alike.

Under existing law, the vast majority of injured workers seeking compensation need to present evidence to the court showing that they were injured on the job. The senator's bill would undermine that key element of the workers' compensation process, making it difficult to know if a given case of PTSD arose from work or, for example, from prior military service or another life situation. More importantly, the proposal does nothing to prevent, identify or treat PTSD. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why the Minnesota Chamber has been encouraging first-responders' employers to address the underlying problem with improved prevention, identification and treatment.

Because of these flaws in the proposal, there was not enough support on the WCAC for the senator's proposal to proceed. After that, Sen. Schoen offered his proposal as a legislative amendment, bypassing the 25-year-old process of such proposals first receiving approval from the WCAC. In response, Commissioner Ken Peterson of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry in Gov. Mark Dayton's administration sent a letter to legislators asking them to oppose any amendments, including Sen. Schoen's.

Bottom line, the Minnesota Chamber will keep encouraging all parties — especially the cities and counties who employ the vast majority of first responders — to do right by our first responders while still respecting key principles of American law and a tried-and-true approach for developing workers' compensation law in Minnesota. We look forward to working with all stakeholders, including Sen. Schoen, in that work.

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