South Carolina first responders push for bill supporting their mental health

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CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — First responders in South Carolina are pushing for legislation to support first responders who suffer from PTSD and other mental health injuries.

Conway Police Chief Dale Long said it’s something that’s long overdue because mental-health issues affect the efficiency of police officers and other first responders, who encounter traumatizing events on a regular basis.

Many say passing the bill would help address an issue that has long been considered taboo.

“There’s a saying that we share around that says my mind cannot forget what my eyes have seen,” William Pesature, vice president of the Professional Firefighters Association of South Carolina, a group that supports the bill.

Post-traumatic stress disorder happens when someone experiences a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

“I think some people have, maybe they don’t have enough knowledge and information about what goes on and how bad this can be. You know, PTSD,  as I said, you can’t see it.”

A joint study with the International Firefighters Association and NBC found that about 22% of firefighters meet the criteria for PTSD in their careers. Currently, in South Carolina, first responders can’t receive mental-health benefits unless they’re accompanied by an injury.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, who is among those pushing for passage of the bill, hopes to change that. 

“There’s a lot of folks that’s stuck in the gap they’re lost in the gap because of this and they can’t take care of their families either,” Malloy said. “So just because you can’t see the injury or feel it with your hands that does not mean it does not occur.”

However, some lawmakers are pushing back because they think the bill would be too costly.

“I take the position that we have to protect our citizens,” Malloy said. “Those individuals are more important than the cost that it will take as it relates to the financial side.”

Long said he thinks passing the bill would also improve the morale and efficiency of first responders.

“If this passes, we have the foundation laid that we’re not going to push it in the corner anymore,” he said. “We’re going to address it as being real.”

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