A bill to improve mental health services for Minnesota police officers is facing scruntiny

Legislation to improve mental health services for Minnesota's emergency responders continues to work its way through the Capitol.

The House passed a bill supporters hope will provide front-line police, firefighters, and others more resources, and keep them on the job if they suffer from post-traumatic stress. The bill has bipartisan support, but some who have served their communities are concerned about their benefits.

No doubt this is a delicate situation. There are those at the Capitol who believe something absolutely has to be done to shore up the pension funds for the state's first responders.

This package does that. More than $100 million is aimed at keeping more front-line, emergency personnel, who risk their lives every day, on the job.

"I dedicated my life to serving and protecting my community. But now I was one who needed protection and support," said Derek Kruse, a former South Saint Paul police officer shot in the line of duty five years ago.

"That day, my life forever changed," he added.

Tuesday, he recounted his mental health deteriorating. He contemplated suicide before retiring from the force with post-traumatic stress pension benefits. Now he's got some big concerns about what new legislation will mean for himself and others that find themselves in a similar spot.

"Instead of being valued and supported, this bill shows that the state believes we are disposable and our sacrifices do not matter," Kruse said.

Late Monday, the House passed legislation supporters hope will keep more emergency responders on the job while providing improved mental health benefits to combat the toll of trauma on individuals. A huge concern in communities both big and small, including Minneapolis where scores of payouts to retiring first responders following the police murder of George Floyd and subsequent unrest has added up to tens of millions of dollars.

The bill requires up to 32 weeks of mental health treatment before an applicant could apply for duty-disability pension. However, while undergoing that treatment, the individual is guaranteed their full pay and employment benefits.

"This issue is an issue that impacts our officers from the day they start until the day they retire, and that we need to look at the entire spectrum and say, how do we ensure that officers coming in will have a plan when they are ready to retire or should they become disabled in the process that they have those benefits there?" said Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, a DFL representative from Saint Paul.