State Rep. Gregg Kennard, D-Lawrenceville, will push legislation in the 2022 legislative session to address mental and behavioral health needs of Georgia’s first responders.

Kennard pre-filed a bill last week to ensure first responders, such as police and firefighters, can get workers’ compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological injuries that they suffer from as a result of the stresses from their jobs.

That bill, House Bill 855, will be taken up when legislators convene for their next regular session in January.

“As we as a society are expanding our awareness and understanding of mental health, it is important to point out that mental health is health,” Kennard said as he announced the bill on Nov. 15. “The brain is an organ just like the heart or kidney, and is subject to injury. This injury may be invisible, but it is real nonetheless.

“At this moment in Georgia, a first responder can only make a claim if there is an accompanying physical injury. HB 855 expands our code to include stand alone psychological injury.”

The bill is expected to be assigned to the House Industry and Labor Committee. Kennard is currently asking constituents and supporters of the legislation to contact committee members and ask for a hearing to be held for the bill.

Kennard said first responders deal with a high amount of stress due to the fact that their jobs often put their lives in danger and force them to deal with other traumatic situations.

“Our first responder agencies are witnessing traumatic, life and death experiences every day, and it is taking a toll on them internally,” he said.

The full list of first responders who would be covered under Kennard’s bill include peace officers such as police and deputies; firefighters; correctional officers; emergency health workers; highway emergency response operators; jail officers; juvenile correctional officers; probation officers; and emergency services dispatchers.

Kennard told his fellow legislators last week that the stresses and traumas that first responders experience during their jobs increases the chances that they will die by suicide.

“Did you know that it is more likely for a firefighter or law enforcement personnel to die by suicide than it is in the line of duty,” Kennard said. “It takes a psychological toll on our first responders — the work that they do every day. As a matter of fact, with all of our first responders, there’s an exponential likelihood that they will experience PTSD and other forms of psychological injury while doing their important work.

“I think many of us are aware of the work ahead of us to improve mental health and behavioral health outcomes. There’s a lot of heavy lifting we need to do as a body because there’s so many of these issues in mental and behavioral health that affect so many of our Georgia citizens, and I look forward in this upcoming session to us working together to move the needle in some meaningful and significant ways.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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