Updates to workers’ compensation rules just the beginning for helping Nova Scotia’s first responders: NDP

Volunteer firefighters fall through the cracks even as PTSD benefits expanded
Mon, Oct 22: Most first responders in Nova Scotia with PTSD will have an easier time accessing workers' compensation benefits when new legislation comes into effect this week. But as we first told you Friday, concerns are being raised by volunteer firefighters who are not covered by the workers' compensation board. Alicia Draus has more.

On Friday, first responders in Nova Scotia with post-traumatic stress disorder will have an easier time accessing workers’ compensation benefits.

The big change is first responders will no longer have to prove their PTSD is work-related. This is a policy that NDP MLA Dave Wilson has been seeking for years. He first proposed the legislative changes in 2014 and called this “a huge deal.”

“We’re having the province recognize that the traumatic events that first responders see in this province may have an impact on their mental health and they may be diagnosed with PTSD,” Wilson said.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia to broaden PTSD benefits for first responders as of next week

The issue is something close to him. As a former paramedic, Wilson said he understands better than most that what first responders see on the job can leave a lasting impact.

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“It’s a huge hurdle for them to recognize the impact,” said Wilson about the current government.

But Wilson also acknowledges there is still more to do.

Concerns have been raised about the new legislation only applying to those with a Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB), something many small volunteer fire departments do not have.

“I’m going to encourage the government that we need to continue to work towards maybe having a province-wide program that covers maybe all first responders who don’t have WCB coverage for one reason or another,” Wilson said.

WATCH: Volunteer firefighters seek additional PTSD services

Volunteer firefighters seek additional PTSD services
Volunteer firefighters seek additional PTSD services

On Friday, Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis acknowledged the gap but said that ultimately it is up to the municipality to decide how departments are insured.

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Kousoulis did say he would be open to looking into other options, including province-wide mandated insurance.

“I would look at the evidence if it would make a difference for all Nova Scotians,” he said.

Wilson said they are currently in a good position, and the recent changes are just the groundwork.

READ MORE: Fallen Fond-du-Lac firefighter shows more help needed to stop suicide

“Things can only get better for first responders as we move forward,” said Wilson, who also said he will continue to push for change to ensure that first responders can get access to the help they need.

“I think all three levels of government need to ensure that smaller municipalities, smaller fire departments or volunteer organizations have access to some type of program that recognizes the contribution their members make and the potential of them having the need of services like a WCB benefit package.”