What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
PTSD can be a long-term mental health reaction to witnessing or experiencing one or more traumatic events.
Symptoms (as listed by Mayo Clinic)
- Avoidance – Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event. Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
- Negative changes in thinking and mood – Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world. Hopelessness about the future.
- Memory problems
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
Typically a person experiencing symptoms for a month or more can potentially be diagnosed with PTSD.
Doctors aren’t sure why some people get PTSD. As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of:
- Stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through in your life
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and depression
- Inherited features of your personality — often called your temperament
- The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress
So How is this Related to Workers Compensation?
Work injuries can be traumatic. Sadly, I see so many people who have suffered debilitating, life-long injuries and these can often times have a psychological component.
Virginia does have some ridged rules when dealing with psychological injuries. Suffering mental health challenges due to a high stress job, demanding work-loads or pressure from or reprimands from management is not sufficient for Virginia Workers Compensation Benefits. Also, the type of work you do may impact your ability to get coverage for PTSD under Virginia Workers Compensation.
For example: First Responders like Police Officers, Firemen and EMTs who are routinely working the scenes of deadly fires, overdoses, car accidents and violent crimes expect to see a lot of blood, trauma and death. It is upsetting, but for them it is all part of the job (and thank you to all of those who suit up every day and are real heroes!). The toll this can take on people is real; however, Virginia Worker’s Compensation Law is not quite up to speed with the medical community on mental health issues and therefore coverage for PTSD as a result of this type of employment is not yet available. Thankfully, however, many of these institutions are stepping up to care for their employees with other means, like employee health programs offering these service people time off from work and mental health care benefits.
So Who can be Covered?
If you were involved in a severe accident and were injured, that physical trauma can later lead to psychological trauma like depression, anxiety and PTSD. These psychological effects from that physical injury can be covered under Virginia Workers Compensation if your physician agrees that it is the result of your work accident.
For Example: If a construction worker’s leg is crushed by a heavy beam, and that injury leads to amputation, that worker may have symptoms of psychological trauma, not only from the injury itself but also from the traumatic experience of losing a limb.
Sudden Shock or Fright
If your job does not have an expectation that you would be regularly exposed to intense life or death situations, but something completely out of the ordinary happens at work and it is a traumatic or extremely high stress situation you could potentially be covered.
For Example: A bus driver doing her every day route drops off one of her passengers only to see that child hit and killed by another driver. This bus driver could develop PTSD as the result of witnessing such a horrific event even though she was not physically injured.
What Should I do if I think I have PTSD?
If you think you may be suffering from PTSD as the result of a work place accident or incident, you need to talk to your physician immediately. Let your doctor know about your symptoms or any changes in behavior like panic attacks, memory loss, mood swings and so on. It might even be a good idea to ask your family members to document any changes they might notice in your behavior so you can make you physician aware of these as well.
Should I Contact a Lawyer if I have PTSD from my Work Accident?
Absolutely. Workers Compensation Insurance Coverage for PTSD as the result of a work-place injury or incident can be a complicated legal argument for several reasons. Every situation is different; it is always best to consult a lawyer to know if your particular instance can be covered. You can reach us for your free case review at (804) 755-7755 today.
Insurance companies typically don’t like to cover PTSD because it’s not a physical injury and will often try to blame it on anything other than the incident at work (your family life, financial issues, and prior traumas, for example).
Mental health issues are also much harder to document than physical injuries. If you suffered a physical injury your doctors will run tests like X-rays, MRI’s or CT Scans to show what is injured. Mental health injuries are much more complicated and treated with a variety of different methods.
Every situation is different and many of us may react differently in intense situations or after a serious injury. All of these factors can complicate a workers compensation claim for coverage of PTSD. Plus, if you are suffering from the effects of PTSD, taking on a complicated legal process may only exacerbate your symptoms or slow your recovery. Always talk to a legal professional!
About the Author: Michele Lewane
The Injured Workers Law Firm is a Richmond, Virginia based firm solely focused on serving clients with workers' compensation claims in Virginia. If you have questions about your benefits or if you would like more information on the Virginia workers’ compensation system, order our book, “The Ultimate Guide to Workers’ Compensation in Virginia” , or call our office today (804) 755-7755.