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Alberta thanks responders with workers comp change

AN Alberta cabinet minister who sponsored a bill guaranteeing compensation for first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder says it was the province's way of saying 'thank you' to those who put their safety at risk for others.

"It's recognition that some people -- through their hard work -- allow people like me to sleep at night," said Frank Oberle, the province's associate minister responsible for disability services and the Workers' Compensation Board of Alberta.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives

BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PR

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives

The Alberta law has been in effect since Dec. 10.

Police officers, firefighters and paramedics applying for workers compensation benefits for PTSD will no longer have to prove it is job-related. That will now be assumed once a diagnosis has been made by a physician or psychologist.

The legislation could mean speedier treatment for first-responders suffering from post-traumatic stress, but WCB coverage isn't the only obstacle in the way of getting help for emergency workers, Oberle noted.

"The difficult problem with PTSD, actually, is not the coverage -- it's the diagnosis itself," said Oberle. "That problem remains. It's not an easy thing to diagnose."

When the bill was debated in the Alberta legislature, the main criticism was its provisions were not being extended to other high-stress professions.

Emergency responders receiving coverage will be paid while receiving treatment. If they return to lower-paying positions, workers comp will pay the difference.

Oberle could not estimate how much the new provision might cost taxpayers. "We're not going to have post-traumatic stress disorder occurring at a higher rate (because of the legislation)," he said.

When the Conservatives promised the legislation during last spring's election campaign, they said Alberta would be the second province to make the change. B.C. has already done so.

-- Larry Kusch

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2013 $sourceSection0

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