New, AFSCME-supported public safety laws focus on TBI, PTSD and mental health

Two new AFSCME-backed laws will benefit public safety personnel and focus on helping those suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental ailments.

President Joe Biden this week signed into law the Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Law Enforcement Training Act, which would provide first responders across the country the critical training they need to recognize the signs and symptoms in people suffering from a TBI or PTSD.

The measure provides $270 million over five years for a new training program to help law enforcement and other first responders better recognize and respond to individuals suffering from the two conditions. It also requires the government to solicit recommendations from health and veterans groups for how best to interact with people suffering from TBI or PTSD.

A major goal of the bill, which received bipartisan support, is to make it safer for law enforcement personnel and the public by helping avoid unnecessary escalation during encounters with people suffering from the two mental health conditions.

The House version of the bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), who founded the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force in 2001 and co-chairs the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus.

“Many common symptoms of TBI or PTSD, like confusion or impaired memory, are often mistaken for intoxication,” Pascrell said on the floor of the House in support of the bill. “Other symptoms, including agitation, can unnecessarily escalate interactions. Ensuring officers can quickly recognize the signs and symptoms of TBI and PTSD will improve both public safety and the safety of our first responders.”

The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who said the bill “will strengthen public safety, reduce community violence, and support mental health services in Georgia and the country.”

The law also directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to report the prevalence of TBI among first responders, a step toward promoting their health and wellness. It seeks to support officers, including correctional officers, who experience either TBI or PTSD.

AFSCME members strongly supported the law, which AFSCME President Lee Saunders praised in May after House passage. Around 90,000 AFSCME members work in public safety occupations.

“Every day, first responders are called to react to thousands of mental health emergencies, a trend that has only increased as cases of mental illness have skyrocketed over the past two years,” Saunders said then. “This bill from Rep. Pascrell will work to expand first responders’ toolkits, so they can properly and safely address mental health emergencies. It will make our communities safer, stronger and, most importantly, it will save lives.”

Also this week, Biden signed a bill that extends death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to families of public safety officers who develop PTSD or acute stress disorder due to a traumatic event in the line of duty, according to the White House.

The Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022 received broad bipartisan support and recognizes the emotional impact of traumatic events on first responders.