A Republican state senator and DFL House member have teamed up to stem the deluge of Minnesota law enforcement officers citing post-traumatic stress disorder and stepping back early – rather than trying first a treatment that could put them back to work.
The bill may require workers to seek treatment for mental injuries before applying for “service disability pensions”.
Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, said he plans to introduce the bill soon, with a companion bill in the upper house coming from Sen. John Howe, R-Rockville.
“Our goals are, first and foremost, to get treatment for the officers,” Long said. “We know that PTSD is a treatable disease.”
The move would require navigating a complex public safety political environment: Republicans have tightly squeezed police unions in recent years and are already attacking Democrats as anti-police ahead of the election. Democratic lawmakers will also need convincing, as they traditionally side with public sector unions on key issues such as wages and benefits. Local authorities, however, are desperate for a solution to soaring costs.
In Minneapolis, which Long represents, hundreds of police officers have left the force, many retired with PTSD-related disabilities.
The number of emergency responders claiming a disability pension from the state pension fund triple after the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 that sparked widespread protests, riots and arson. Most are cops who say they can’t do their jobs because of PTSD, according to data from the State Public Employees Retirement Association.
The situation is setting off “alarm bells” about work stress, staff shortages and impact on the city budgetsaid Long.
“It’s not really sustainable to basically pay for two police forces,” he said, referring to pre-retirees and existing police forces. “So it’s in everyone’s interest to work together.”
Last fall, about 300 Minneapolis police officers had left the department since 2020, including about 130 patrol officers – the equivalent of an entire constituency staff.
Additionally, around 40 officers were on continuous leave, such as sick leave, leaving around 600 officers available to work. The city spent about $12 million on overtime last year while dealing with staffing shortages.
Most disability pension claims are approved, thanks to a 2019 state law that says if a worker has PTSD, they’re presumed to be work-related. Armed with a disability pension, many employees are also applying for workers’ compensation benefits. Combined, the two can add up to a full salary.
Long and Howe’s bill may require employees to apply for workers’ compensation before applying for disability pensions, although labor groups are resisting this provision because the workers’ compensation system is more contradictory than PERA.
Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services — the state’s largest law enforcement union — said the bill has been reworked in recent days and he expects d further revisions be made before its introduction.
“The concept has merit,” he said. “How it’s implemented is the other issue.”
All but nine of Minnesota’s cities have workers’ compensation coverage through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust. But Mortenson said almost all workers’ compensation claims for PTSD are denied by the League, which is why employees go to PERA first. Since January 2019, 94% of workers’ compensation claims have been denied by the League, with about half due to disputed diagnoses.
“If you want them back to work, then approve workers’ compensation,” Mortenson said.
League Insurance Trust Administrator Dan Greensweig said if you take out 2021, which has many pending claims, the League has made medical or compensation (lost time) payments over approximately the half of public safety complaints for PTSD received since 2013.
Long is lobbying the bill because he represents Minneapolis, Mortenson said, but Minneapolis is self-insured, so workers’ compensation claims are handled by the city, not the League. The city has approved more than $18 million in workers’ compensation settlements since Floyd’s murder.
“If it hadn’t been for the Minneapolis incident (Floyd’s murder) … we probably wouldn’t be having these conversations,” Mortenson said.
Anne Finn, lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities, said anything the legislature does that involves the workers’ compensation system will get the attention of labor groups.
Long says people who work with PTSD patients say avoidance is a big problem, so people will often try to delay treatment.
But many officers go straight to disability status and do not receive treatment, he said, which is not optimal for officers’ mental health or short-staffed services.
When a worker receives a disability pension, state law requires cities to continue paying their health insurance until age 65. can cost a city hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the state pays only part of the cost. Cities are required to continue to provide the worker’s level of health insurance (such as family coverage) until age 65. If the monthly premium is $1,500, that’s $360,000 over 20 years, not including premium increases.
The bill would allow cities to be fully reimbursed by the state for providing health insurance benefits if they can demonstrate that they have implemented preventative measures such as peer support and referral programs. officer welfare.
The bill would also require wellness training in college policing programs, in-service wellness training, and that employees be kept financially “whole” while being treated for mental injuries.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs regularly treats people with PTSD, Long said, allowing many people to return to work.
“But the way we’ve set up our current disability system doesn’t incentivize or encourage this treatment in the same way that we see for our veterans,” he said.