Dispatcher with PTSD urges B.C. to cut claims red tape
Proposed legislation would presume first responder’s PTSD is a result of their employment
On the morning of April 5, 1996 emergency dispatcher Hardeep Dhaliwal received a call reporting what would later turn out to be one of the worst shooting massacres in Canada's history.
The 911 call came from a young child in Vernon, B.C. who reported hearing gunshots.
Nearby, Mark Chahal had just walked up to the home of his estranged wife's family, who had gathered together for a wedding that weekend, and opened fire — killing his wife and eight in-laws before turning the gun on himself.
"The call was getting worse and worse with just more people found and more people injured in the incident," Dhaliwal said.
"The stress of that call changed my life forever."
Dhaliwal, now 57, quickly developed post-traumatic stress disorder, but it took almost 20 years of battling with WorksafeBC before they agreed he had PTSD and was eligible for compensation.
'Presumptive clause' proposed in B.C.
It's why Dhaliwal says the law has to change — and he is hopeful that a bill introduced last week in the B.C. legislature could begin the process.
Vancouver-Hastings MLA and NDP labour critic Shane Simpson introduced a private member's bill on Feb. 23 that aims to amend the Workers' Compensation Act with a "presumptive clause."
This clause would mean that if any firefighter, police officer or other first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, it will be assumed "to be an injury that arose out of and occurred during the course of the worker's employment."
Currently any worker seeking compensation for a mental disorder through WorksafeBC has to prove that the injury arose as a reaction to one or more traumatic events in the course of their employment, or that it was predominately caused by a "work-related stressor" including bullying or harassment, or a cumulative number of these stressors.
"This is a group of public servants who take on some of the most challenging and difficult work on our behalf," said Simpson, who added that he hopes the bill will put pressure on the government to bring forward its own similar legislation.
"We have some responsibility to ensure when they face challenges related to doing that on our behalf, that we make sure they're taken care of."
Similar presumptive legislation is already in place in provinces like Alberta and Manitoba and the government of Ontario recently announced it intends to do the same.
Shirley Bond — B.C.'s minister of jobs, tourism and skills training — was not available for an interview, but said in a statement that the government passed Bill 14 in 2012 "to expand workers' compensation coverage for diagnosed, work-related mental disorders, including PTSD."
This bill included bringing in compensation for workers who develop a mental disorder as a result of bullying and harassment.
She did not say whether her ministry would introduce a presumptive eligibility.
'I was being kicked when I was down'
Dhaliwal, who still works in Kamloops as a dispatch supervisor, said his life since 1996 "would not have had such a struggle" if this presumptive legislation had already been in place.
His claims were rejected by WorksafeBC, and he felt alone in trying to find help for the flashbacks and nightmares he would suffer when certain calls on the job triggered memories of that day in 1996.
"It almost felt like I was being kicked when I was down, and kicked hard," he said.
His union, Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., supported his case, and in 2013 WorksafeBC had him reassessed and diagnosed him with PTSD.
By then, Dhaliwal had separated from his wife, and was still grappling with his condition.
"I just wasn't the same person, so my hopes and dreams since I was 16 of having kids, growing old together with my spouse, seeing grandchildren and all that stuff kind of exploded. It was destroyed."
According to WorksafeBC, there were 5,404 claims for a mental disorder (including PTSD) from all sectors between July 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2016 that proceeded through their adjudication process. But, only 1,436 were allowed.
Spokesperson Trish Chernecki said a claim may be disallowed if it is deemed to be not work-related, the condition was not a diagnosable mental disorder or the disorder was related to job performance or work expectations.
Ambulance Paramedics supports presumptive clause
Bronwyn Barter, the president of Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said her association has often seen paramedics struggle to get claims recognized by their case managers at WorksafeBC.
"They have to prove to these case managers that they've suffered, had a PTSD issue, and that it happened from work," said Barter, who is a paramedic herself.
"This legislation goes a long way to put it on the other end."
Both Barter and Dhaliwal said they would like to see the proposed presumptive legislation cover other mental health injuries as well.
"We need to protect the people that are out there to help people in need," Dhaliwal said.
"We're there to help, who's there to help us?"
- A previous version of this story suggested that Bill 14 only introduced compensation for workers who developed mental disorders as a result of bullying or harassment. In fact, the bill covers all mental disorders that are medically diagnosed as work-related.Mar 03, 2016 12:43 PM PT