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When Kansans needs help, they call 911. But first responders don't always get the help they need

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Lawrence Police Department Car
Nomin Ujiyediin
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Kansas News Service
First responders in Kansas are sometimes exposed to unspeakable horrors. But if that on-the-job experience causes them to have mental trauma, they are not eligible for workers' compensation.

Kansas is in the midst of a years-long legislative debate over whether first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder can be eligible for worker's compensation.

In Kansas, first responders have been trying for years to pass legislation that would allow their psychological injuries to be covered by workers' compensation. Proposals that would have covered such injuries once again failed to gain momentum during this year's session.

Responders say their line of work involves experiences that could cause post-traumatic stress disorder. But in Kansas, workers' compensation coverage must be associated with a physical injury — firefighters, police and other first responders are not covered by injuries such as stress, anxiety and depression from a physical injury or a physical change caused by factors at work.

"We're trying to get these folks to learn how to process and not live underneath their traumas but live with them. This is bill is not a get back to work bill, it's a get back to life bill," said Jay Armbrister, Douglas County sheriff.

Under Missouri law, a mental injury is eligible for compensation only if the employee demonstrates that the stress causing the mental injury is work-related and was “extraordinary and unusual.”

  • Jay Armbrister, sheriff of Douglas County in Lawrence.
  • Ed Klumpp, member of the Kansas Peace Officers Association and legislative liaison for the Kansas Sheriffs Association.
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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz
Reginald David is an assistant producer with Up To Date. You can reach him at reginalddavid@kcur.org.