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Advocacy group starts new program to help police, dispatchers with hidden hazards of the job

2 Lorain men stabbed in Amherst early Thursday morning
Posted at 5:27 PM, Aug 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-07 18:28:53-04

CLEVELAND — Amid the disturbing trends of an increased number of law enforcement suicides and of law enforcement officers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a statewide law enforcement advocacy group, has introduced a new program allowing its members to have access to confidential services on a wide range of mental health maladies, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and PTSD.

The OPBA began the mental health assistance program earlier this month. Any one of the organization’s 8,000 members and their families would have access to the mental health services at no additional cost. The new program was also launched as the OPBA and other law enforcement advocacy groups continue to push state lawmakers to add job-related PTSD as a qualifying condition for workers compensation.

“People recognize that what we do is a really hard job and they recognize that we see some really horrible things,” said OBPA attorney Brian Holb. “Sometimes we need a little help and I think it’s incumbent upon the state to provide that help.”

The program allows OPBA members to confidentially request mental health-related services. Marriage or financial counseling assistance is also included in the program. The OPBA launched the program for two main reasons: officers, dispatchers and correctional officers may be skeptical or worry that seeking help may result in retribution by a superior and the growing number of law enforcement officers committing suicide each year.

“There is this issue of people not wanting to be open about it because either they think it makes them look weak or they think they are going to be judged by their peers or by their supervisors. In some cases, that may be true,” Holb said. “In the past there have been peer support groups where there were other police officers who were trained to deal with those types of situations. We thought it would be helpful if your members had someone they could have that confidential and frank discussion with.”

According to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there were 158 line of duty deaths in 2018. Meanwhile, according to Blue H.E.L.P., a non-profit that tracks law enforcement suicides, there were 167 verified law enforcement suicides in 2018.

There were 169 law enforcement suicides in 2017 and 142 suicides in 2018, the agency reported.

“You have people committing suicide at a higher rate than they die doing the job that they are hired to do. I think that’s a crisis for sure,” Holb said.

It is unclear how prevalent PTSD or PTSD-related symptoms were in those law enforcement suicides. However, considering the results of recent studies that found nearly one in five law enforcement officers may have PTSD, it is entirely likely that the disorder played a role it at least some of them.

“Let’s face it, the things that our members see are pretty horrific. Those things can occur multiple times a day,” Holb said. “There are things that most people in the course of their life will never see once but our members will see multiple times in their career,”

Before state lawmakers went on summer recess, the Ohio House approved a budget bill for the Bureau of Workers Compensation that included PTSD as a compensable injury for workers compensation. However, the Senate version of the bill stripped that language. Holb said the OPBA, Fraternal Order of Police and other law enforcement advocacy groups will be pushing a bill introduced by State Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) that would add PTSD as a compensable injury.

“It’s something I’m sure never leaves [an officer’s] mind. That’s the big issue when you talk about PTSD,” Holb said. “It’s one of those things that you manage. It’s not something that ever truly goes away.”