Every day, our first responders witness traumas that can leave both physical and mental scars, but the mental injury is often ignored, meaning not everyone can get the help they need.
There is currently a divide between laws in Kentucky and Indiana, that protect these men and women when the job becomes too much to handle on their own. While there are some protections and benefits for our heroes, many still fall through the cracks and suffer in silence.
Mental injuries like PTSD aren't recognized in Kentucky, unless you were physically hurt. So, many first responders don't get the time off they need.
"If you and I are partners and we walk into a house and you witness me get my head blown off, and you get PTSD, tough on you. Because you don't have a physical injury," Ofc. Lamont Washington, with Louisville Metro Police Department said.
The benefits are different for first responders across the state. Some departments allow extended time off for employees struggling with mental injury. Others are forced to use up their vacation and sick time before they're faced with the decision to quit or be fired. It shouldn't have to come to that.
"If we can bring them back and get them back on the job, we don't want to turn our backs on them," Capt. Brian O'Neill, a Louisville firefighter and president of the Louisville Professional Firefighters Local 345 said.
Firefighters in Kentucky have been very vocal in recent years at the state level hoping to get PTSD recognized for worker's compensation.
"It's a serious problem. We're not asking for the moon. We just want it to be recognized that it is an injury that occurs because of the work we do," O'Neill said. "That's what we're trying to fight for, is that recognition that these things happen, and it shouldn't be treated any different."
In Indiana, first responders can receive benefits, but the burden is on them to prove their PTSD is a result of an incident on the job. That can be a hard case to prove.
"We're all kind of catching up and realizing 'wait a second, why are we four times more likely to kill ourselves, and why are we seeing increased substance abuse, and depression?" Joe Hurt, the IAFF president of the Jeffersonville chapter said. "We realize this is taking a toll on our members. Let's start putting some science behind it and then with that science, ... we can start relating this to work-related injury and getting guys compensated and getting them the help they need."
Learn more in our Stressed Into Silence series.
Be sure to watch our Battle After the Blaze coverage where we looked into firefighters across Kentuckiana that were facing a health threat that surfaced years after fighting fires and saving lives.