New Minnesota law to help first responders get workers' comp for PTSD

A new law taking effect in 2019, will help first responders dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder get coverage through workers’ compensation. 

Brian Cristofono landed his dream job as a firefighter in Maplewood and eventually moved to a St. Paul department. It was the job he always knew was in his blood.

“At first you feel like a superhero, especially after you get the job you’ve been gunning for forever, and I think at first, the more traumatic the call, the more dangerous the call, it was like a badge of honor,” said Cristofono, a former firefighter.

Eventually, seeing all that trauma took its toll.

“We get called to see the worst of the worst,” he said. “That’s our job. Society needs us to do that. They need someone to go and answer those calls, but we’re also human beings and it affects you and scars you and some of those calls don’t go away.”

Cristofono was eventually diagnosed with PTSD, but his workers’ compensation claim was denied by the City of St. Paul because there was no physical injury.

“But then it creeps up on you – at least it did for me – where you can’t get sleep started, having nightmares and was more aggravated and angry, didn’t know what was going on and hated going to work to the job that was a dream for me,” he said.

Cristofono’s marriage fell apart and he even contemplated suicide. He eventually had to retire in 2017. Since then, he has been pushing for change for his fellow first responders. He says a new law in how PTSD is covered by workers’ comp, is a step in the right direction.

“I was first asked to come tell my story with other first responders at the Senate in 2015 and it’s about time,” he said.

“This is going to be a change that’s very good for Minnesota police, fire first responders and others in dealing with PTSD,” said Senator Nick Frentz, DFL – North Mankato.

Senator Frentz says the new law will allow more first responders to get the help they need.

“It’s a change in the workers comp law that creates a presumption that when they’re diagnosed with it, it comes from work,” he said. “They can be covered under workers comp, get treatment, hopefully get better and also help us recruit to the profession.”

Senator Frentz says firefighter, police and first responder groups will be getting out the word to their members that there is now a presumption that PTSD comes from work as long as they weren't diagnosed before.