PTSD often disables first responders

This article was originally published by The Hamilton Spectator.

When most people hear about post-traumatic stress disorder, they don’t really understand it. It is something that happens to somebody else … soldiers in battle and victims of abuse. But it also happens to people who live and work among us. Often those affected are first responders. Police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, nurses, emergency dispatchers and paramedics are among them. Many suffer in silence, some not even knowing that they are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD.

The effects of PTSD can be invidious and long-lasting. Too often they become debilitating. The very thought of being called to another roadside accident, domestic assault or other catastrophic event where the depths of human suffering are unavoidable and in front of you becomes overwhelming. People become paralyzed and unable to cope.

Chronic exposure to traumatic and highly stressful situations can lead to PTSD. The symptoms can include sleep disturbances, painful flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbness and addiction. It has been estimated that more than 70,000 Canadian first responders have experienced PTSD in the course of their career, which can lead to increased work absences, burnout, illness and high turnover rates. PTSD can manifest itself physically through pain, sweating, nausea or trembling. Some are rendered totally disabled.

When this happens, a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claim is often made as it is an injury to one’s mental health that is clearly caused by work. If a claim is successful, WSIB will usually give the employee loss of earning benefits.

If after six years of ongoing disability the continued inability of the first responder to take up their own occupation persists, WSIB will accept that the benefits are locked in. After lock-in, in most cases, the first responder will receive benefits until age 65.

That sounds like good news, but for many first responders suffering from this debilitating illness, it is not. Many first responders associate their trauma with their employer and then subsequently with the WSIB. Dealing with WSIB on a regular basis can serve as an ongoing trigger for PTSD. It can significantly inhibit the healing process and delay, if not completely stall, the possibility of recovery. These first responders would rather not have an ongoing relationship with WSIB and the triggering that occurs. It is a constant reminder of their employment, employer and job.

There is an option for them. Pursuant to Section 63 of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, it is possible to receive a lump-sum payment from the employer to resolve a WSIB claim and hopefully give the employee enough, well-conserved, to sustain them. For many, not having to deal with WSIB to the age of 65 allows them a real and vital mental separation from their previous career. They can move forward in the healing process, without the legal reminders of the event that led to PTSD in the first place.

That is not, however, an automatic process. The employer has to agree to the lump-sum payment and WSIB has to approve the settlement. That process takes an experienced lawyer to navigate.

If you are a first responder suffering with PTSD, you can access anonymous support at

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Ross & McBride professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.

Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809