Memphis falls short on PTSD
City policy does not recognize police officer’s psychological injury
By Amos Maki
Monday, April 2, 2012
Memphis Police Department officer Gabriel Lawson was one of dozens of officers who responded to a disturbance at the DoubleTree Hotel Downtown on July 3, 2011.
Once inside, Lawson and others found fellow officer Timothy Warren had been shot. While still under fire from his shooter, the officers pulled the fatally wounded Warren from the line of fire and stayed with him until paramedics arrived.
Alexander Haydel of Cleveland, Miss., has been indicted on two counts of first-degree murder in the shootings, accused of killing his wife’s former husband at the hotel before shooting the officer.
Shortly after the shootout, which also left Arthur Warren — who is unrelated to the fallen officer — dead, Lawson began displaying signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, including flashbacks, nightmares, emotional detachment and insomnia. Lawson took an extended leave and sought medical help.
When he applied for on-the-job injury status, his claim was denied by the city’s claims manager, Sedgwick CMS, because the city’s policy doesn’t formally recognize psychological injuries unless they stem from a physical injury.
Lawson was forced to use vacation, holiday and sick days for his treatment.
Lawson declined to talk about his case to a reporter, but his situation was spelled out in a letter sent to Memphis City Council members and acquired by The Commercial Appeal.
PTSD, a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying or traumatic event, is now a household name, vaulted into the national conscience by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I am surprised at the policy of this city,” said Mike Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association. “Many other cities do cover mental stress placed on an officer for PTSD.
“When you see dead babies, citizens shot in the head, burned up in car accidents, heads cut off, bloated bodies pulled from water, or your partner killed by a suspect, that could be a bit much for some individuals to handle.”
City officials say they are reviewing the policy.
“There are outlier situations where there may be support that goes beyond what we offer,” said Human Resources director Quintin Robinson.
State and local laws are murky about when and how on-the-job-injury status should be applied for employees suffering from PTSD.
Meredith Mays Ward, manager of legislative and media affairs with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said her organization has not tracked nationally which police departments allow on-the-job-injury status for PTSD.
Metro Nashville government allows the status for PTSD in some instances, determined on a case-by-case basis by the Metro Employee Benefit Board.
“PTSD is not excluded from consideration, but the employee would have to present evidence to the Metro Employee Benefit Board of some direct link between the requirements of the job and an identifiable incident that is different from the ordinary stresses of the job, per our Metro Code, charter and case law,” said Rita Roberts-Turner, Human Resources director of Metro Government.
Knoxville officials said they do not have a city policy regarding PTSD and OJI, but that they follow state workers’ compensation laws.
“In some circumstances the law does provide for PTSD to be work-related if it occurs from a specific and sudden occurrence on the job,” said Gary Eastes from Knoxville’s Risk Management Department. “It is most commonly work-related in law enforcement, though it can occur in other areas.”
Receiving therapy after a traumatic event can reduce the symptoms and severity of PTSD, according to a recent study on the subject.
“Providing police officers with interventional support shortly after and in the weeks following a (traumatic event) improves the chances of preventing PTSD,” said André Marchand, lead author of a 2011 study from the University of Montreal, in an introduction to the study.
The city of Memphis offered support services in the immediate aftermath of the DoubleTree shootout — peer counselors and psychologists are on call for fire and police personnel, and that night, they were deployed to the scene and to officer Warren’s work sites. Fire Department employees received the support the next day.
“They do it immediately because it is something that is traumatic,” said Lynnette Hall-Lewis, the city’s Workplace Safety and Compliance manager. A top priority is determining whether a police officer is well enough to return to the streets with a gun and a badge.
“Leadership in MPD works with these individuals to make sure they are psychologically fit to go out there and do their jobs,” said Robinson.
If counselors determine more treatment is needed, the Police Department places the officers on “nonenforcement, or desk duty,” status until they are considered fit to return to duty, Robinson said.
If the psychological trauma prevents employees from returning to work, Robinson said, they can seek a line-of-duty disability retirement. Employees who receive such a retirement status can apply to be reinstated if they feel they are no longer disabled.
“The pension board has approved line-of-duty disability for PTSD, even without OJI status,” said Robinson.
But Robinson said he understands that employees are passionate about their jobs and often want to return to work after receiving proper treatment, leaving a crack in the city’s policy that employees like Lawson can fall through.
“We’ll do the right thing and do whatever we can to help our police officers, firefighters and other employees who might be similarly situated,” said Robinson.
— Amos Maki: (901) 529-2351
used by permission from author Amos Maki from Article : Commercial Appeal