Workers’ Compensation and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 at 11:37 am    

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a long-term mental health reaction to witnessing or experiencing one or more traumatic events. While many people recover from accidents or other forms of trauma as their injuries heal or with time – for some people the trauma can prevent them from working, from functioning and from enjoying life. For example, some people who have an extremely violent car accident may be fearful of ever driving or even being a passenger in a car again.

Workers’ compensation doesn’t just apply to physical injuries. Workers who can’t emotionally do their job are also entitled to North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation benefits. This includes PTSD cases.

Types of jobs where PTSD claims are likely

Any accident can cause someone to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, PTSD is most common in work environments where there is a great amount of stress, physical contact, and violence. Some of the jobs where PTSD is common are firefighting, police work, and emergency medical care. Workers who see other persons die or deal with physical difficulties, such as nurses and medical care providers, also are prone to suffering PTSD. In many cases, a specific incident is what pushes the employee over the edge to the point he/she can’t work and can’t function.

People in the military often suffer PTSD. Your North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer can explain if you have a state or federal workers’ compensation claim if military combat causes PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder systems

The psychological and emotional difficulties of PTSD vary from person to person. Some patients may recover in weeks or months. Others may need years to recover and some may never recover. In the worst cases, someone with post-traumatic stress disorder may tragically take their own life. Patients need to work with psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals in or order to address their problems and to learn how to cope and manage them.

Typical PTSD symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • An inability to communicate
  • Flashbacks and nightmares about the traumatic incident
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Violence towards other or towards themselves
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Guilt about surviving the traumatic event when others did not survive
  • Being easily startled
  • Fear for one’s safety
  • Getting upset at anything that reminds you or “triggers” you in relation to a traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, conversations and other triggers that remind you of the stressful event
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Withdrawing from relationships
  • Not participating in events you once enjoyed

Some people outwardly show their PTSD symptoms by being aggressive. Some may even engage in self-destructive behavior such as abusing alcohol or drugs or driving recklessly. Eating disorders are also common.

The consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder are not just limited to emotional effects. Many people with PTSD are at risk for some or all of the following physical detrimental effects:

  • Ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches

Workers’ compensation benefits for people with PTSD

Workers who can verify through medical evidence that a specific workplace accident triggered their PTST can demand their work injury benefits in North Carolina and in Virginia. The allowable benefits include:

  • Payments of 2/3rds of the worker’s average weekly wages during the time he/she can’t work for up to 500 weeks.
  • Partial payments if the worker can return to work, but only at a less stressful job which pays less than what the employee was earning before he/she needed to stop working
  • Medical treatment to help restore or manage the employee’s mental health
  • Medical care for any physical problems related to the PTSD
  • The cost of all medications needed to treat the PTSD for the rest of the employee’s life

Employees may also be entitled to vocational rehabilitation expenses for the costs to learn new work skills so the worker can accept a less stressful job.

Some of the challenges of PTSD work injury cases

There are several difficulties in North Carolina and Virginia PTSD cases. Workers often aren’t aware of their problems immediately. It can take a long time before the employee becomes aware that PTSD is the cause of his/her inability to work. Early intervention helps many patients which is why it is important to file your workers’ compensation as soon as possible.

Insurance companies will try to blame factors not related to work for the employee’s post-traumatic stress disorder such as family stresses, money problems, and abuse by others.

Mental health issues are harder to document than physical injuries where X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other more objective tests are used to show that the employee does have significant work-related injuries.

Employers may try to argue that the worker only qualifies for PTSD if he/she suffered the trauma instead of just witnessing the trauma. We have had PTSD cases where we have overcome such defense arguments.

Our North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyers explain that witnessing a violent act at work should qualify for work injury benefits, depending on the occupation of the worker. For example, if a police officer witnesses another police officer being shot, the first police officer often will undergo PTSD because of concern for the fellow police officer and for his/her own safety. The right to claim workers’ compensation benefits varies from state to state. Some states require an unusual stimulus, some require a sudden stimulus, and some don’t allow for PTSD claims. North Carolina and Virginia currently do allow for PTSD claims if certain conditions are met.

The High Importance of Recognizing PTSD in a Workers Compensation Claim

It is extremely important for injured workers that are suffering from PTSD to come forward and advise their doctors and their attorney about any symptoms listed in this article because it is so important on many levels. First, it is important to get the psychiatric help you need, but properly identifying PTSD as soon as possible can also mean the difference between a successful, ongoing case that leads to settlement, or a case that simply evaporates and leaves the injured worker with little in the way of settlement.

Oftentimes, we know that despite everything we may try, workers compensation doctors can be very conservative and release injured workers to full duty well before they are ready to return to work, either physically or emotionally.

For a worker suffering from PTSD, even light duty at the same workplace is simply impossible. Just the thought of re-entering the place that has brought the injured worker so much suffered is enough to send someone with PTSD into a full-fledged panic attack, severe depression, or even thoughts of suicide.

Therefore, it is critical to get a referral for PTSD as soon as possible, long before the release by the doctors who are treating you for your physical injuries, so when that day comes, you are protected by your psychiatric doctors who can issue a work note to prevent you from having to return to the workplace.

A good psychiatrist will work with you not only to help you resolve your symptoms but he or she also knows that if you are released to work too early, you will be re-triggered and you might never recover from the PTSD brought on by the accident. He or she will therefore “protect” you from being harmed by an early release by issuing a work note holding you out of work until such time as it is determined that you can safely do so from a psychiatric perspective.

Many times, our PTSD clients have been “saved” by their psychiatrists, because the physical doctors have released the client to light duty when it is very clear that from a psychiatric and emotional standpoint that returning to work would utterly destroy our client. In these circumstances, had our client not had a psychiatrist who had already diagnosed him with PTSD from the accident holding him out of work for their PTSD, the client would have been forced to make a choice between returning to work, which means certain suicide or committal to a mental hospital, or giving up on their workers compensation case by refusing to return to work.

With proper PTSD treatment in place as a result of early identification of PTSD symptoms and a proper diagnosis, not to mention proper documentation and authorization and a lifetime medical award for PTSD, this is not a concern.

Talk with a caring Virginia and North Carolina workers’ compensation law now
Attorney Joe Miller works with psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, and counselors who can properly evaluate your PTSD condition. He has the experience to fight to show that you meet the Virginia and North Carolina workers’ compensation requirements. For over 27 years, he has obtained numerous awards and settlements that fully compensate work injury victims. To discuss your case or that of a loved one who is suffering, please call attorney Joe Miller Esq. at (888) 694-1671 or by filling out his contact form.