Category Archives: Work Injury

PTSD in the Aftermath of a Work Injury

PTSD following a work injury can be compensable

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Note: in Washington State, coverage issues are very similar to those Mr. Domer describes in Wisconsin. – kc

Recovery from a work injury is more than just the physical aspect.  After bones heal, joints are repaired, and spines are fixed, many workers still face psychological scars from the injury’s impact.  Some workers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a trauma.  Workers with PTSD need to heal psychologically too.

The silver lining is that the Wisconsin workers’ compensation law covers that psychological treatment.  An “injury” under Wisconsin law can be either physical or mental harm from the effects of an injury.  If a worker experiences a psychological diagnosis (and need for treatment) stemming from a traumatic physical injury, the applicable legal standard is the same, as those for a physical injury.  Specifically, the psychological care, and corresponding benefits (for lost time and permanency), is compensable if the physical work injury is the direct cause of the need psychological care or even if the injury aggravated, accelerated, and precipitated a pre-existing psychological condition beyond its normal progression.  (i.e., if the work event made the person’s psychological condition permanently worse).    

A purely mental/emotional stress injury, however, has a different, higher standard.  These are claims where the worker alleges their workplace environment (without a physical injury) causes their psychological condition (examples would inlcude witnessing a horrendous event, a berating supervisor, or an unbearable workload).  In these “mental-mental” circumstances, the worker must meet the extraordinary stress test–showing their experience was greater than the day to day emotional strains all workers must undergo.   Suffice to say, this is a tough standard for most workers to meet, making these claims difficult to pursue.

In stark contrast, if a worker suffers a physical injury and then begins to experience PTSD, such claims and medical treatment expenses generally are compensable–if the psychologist or psychiatrist provides their support.   Medical support for the psychological condition and care is key.

A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers excellent insight for PTSD sufferers following a traumatic incident: Life After a Car Crash: Could You Be Experiencing PTSD?  In the article, Dr. Terri deRoon-Cassini seeks to spread awareness of the prevalence of PTSD symptoms and need for treatment after an accident.  She offers a litany of specific symptoms that individuals may experience in their post-injury recovery, including:

  • intrusive flashbacks/nightmares
  • avoidance behaviors
  • hyper-arousal, or
  • negative mood/thinking.

More importantly, Dr. deRoon-Cassini higlights the need for proper and timely psychological care–along with the ability to achieve a positive recovery. 

Workers can receive compensation during their psychological recovery, as well as vocational benefits if their psychological limits do not allow a return to their pre-injury employment.   No matter what, injured workers need to be aware of their psychological/emotional state and to not be afraid to get the needed psychological care.

How Safe Is Healthcare for Workers?

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

The issue raised by Mr. Rehm was investigated thoroughly in a book given to us by a client, an injured nurse who contributed her story to the effort under a pseudonym: Back Injury Among Healthcare Workers, published by Lewis Publishers. It is a great resource, providing case-studies, statistics and suggestions for improvements for workers in the healthcare field.

The article that today’s blog post is based upon is an in-depth look at how one state’s OSHA office interacts with a sector of the healthcare community: hospitals. Like Iowa, but unlike Nebraska, Oregon is one of 27 states or U.S. territories that has an OSHA office at the state level

The “Lund Report: Unlocking Oregon’s Healthcare System” article talks extensively about nuances within ways that OSHA offices, whether state or federal, can measure the safety of healthcare providers like hospitals and nursing homes. 

As evidenced in previous blog posts about senior-care workers and lifting injuries, I have continuing concerns for the safety of healthcare workers. 

According to the in-depth article, “A Lund Report review suggests that in Oregon, regulators are de-emphasizing attention to hospital employee safety, despite national data showing that healthcare workers are injured in the U.S. each year at rates similar to farmers and hunters. Most Oregon hospitals have not been inspected by the state Occupational Safety and Health Division in years. And when on-the-job hazards are detected, Oregon’s OSHA office levies the lowest average penalties in the country.”

Should workers get lost as the patients are the focus of these healthcare institutions? Should regulation and inspections or fines by such groups as OSHA be the driving force toward workplace safety for healthcare employees?

It seems to me that healthcare administrators’ emphasis on profit is more important than proper concern for their employees – the nation’s caregivers. And if you or your family member is the healthcare worker who gets hurt on the job, this lack of focus on the worker is more than just a philosophical argument.