- A House bill filed this week could require employment agencies of first responders to pay for up to 12 hours of licensed mental health counseling following a work-related accident, injury, or traumatic event
- A first responder can seek up to 24 hours of treatment if the extra hours are likely to improve a mental condition, pending instruction by a mental health specialist
- Covered first responders includes firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and law enforcement officers, including those working on a volunteer basis
A bill filed this week by Rep. Vicki Lopez could require employers of first responders to pay for up to 12 hours of licensed counseling following a work-related accident, injury, or traumatic event.
Per the legislation, the licensed counseling may be in person or via telehealth measures. Covered first responders includes firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and law enforcement officers, including those working on a volunteer basis.
Additionally, the employing agency would be responsible for paying for up to an additional 24 hours of treatment if a mental health specialist finds that the first responder requires more hours of counseling and that those extra hours of authorized counseling are likely to improve their condition.
Should a first responder take advantage of the covered counseling, they would have one year from a first consultation to complete a comprehensive mental treatment plan.
Furthermore, if the first responder’s licensed counseling is scheduled during their regular working hours, their employing entity may not demand that they use any of their accumulated annual, personal, or sick leave.
The legislation builds upon a $12 million investment in funding announced in 2022 by First Lady Casey DeSantis to expand peer-to-peer mental health services available for first responders through the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
The funding was equally invested across all six DCF regions (Northwest, Northeast, Central, SunCoast, Southeast and Southern) and created or expanded upon pre-existing local peer-based services.
The services assist in connecting first responders and their families with peers who are trained in offering information and supportive counseling.
“Our first responders have made it their life’s work to put the needs of others before their own,” said First Lady DeSantis. “It is vital that we provide them with resiliency and mental health resources to continue serving our communities. By expanding these services, we can help to create a strong network of support for our first responders.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis cited the Surfside apartment collapse as an example of necessary implementation of mental health services for first responders.
“It does take an emotional toll, this work you have to do and what you are exposed to,” said DeSantis. “We need to have resources as people have challenges involving mental health resilience, and the First Lady has really led the way on that.”