First Responders and PTSD – WCRA Amendments

Who are our first responders?  

First Responders are our emergency services warriors (including youth justice staff, correctional officers, coal mine staffers, and doctors and nurses in emergency and trauma units), exposed to traumatic and life-changing events day in day out in the course of their normal employment duties and, thankfully, recently there has been increased awareness regarding the mental health of workers in these critical roles. In May 2021, a bill was passed by Queensland Parliament making the process for first responders wanting to make a claim with WorkCover Queensland more streamlined and while also limiting the need for injured workers to recount past incidents that may have led to their PTSD.  

What has changed under the WCRA? 

The recent amendments to the Workers’ Compensation & Rehabilitation Act 2003 (WCRA) change the way that Insurers examine applications for a diagnosed PTSD injury. The amendments to the Act in section 32 (5) bring in a presumption of “injury” for first responders who suffer PTSD connected with their work if:   

  •  theinjured workeris diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist, in the way prescribed by regulation; 
  •  at any time before the diagnosis, theinjured workerwas classed as a first responder or eligible employee.  

Previously, the onus of proof was placed on the worker to produce evidence of their condition by way of medical reports and written submissions to the workers compensation insurer outlining reasons why their claim should be accepted. In essence, the changes reverse the onus and place it on the employer to prove that the worker does not meet the requirements of the WCRA.  

Who is classified as a first responder or eligible employee? 

Importantly, it’s not just the emergency services that are covered; youth justice staff, correctional officers, coal mine staffers, and doctors and nurses in emergency and trauma units are covered too. As a first responder, the definition includes any person whose employment requires them to respond to any incident that is: 

  • life-threatening or otherwise traumatic; and 
  • time-critical to prevent actual or potential death or injury to persons, or to prevent or minimise damage to property or the environment. 

Eligible employees are defined as: 

  • a person whose job is to recover human remains and/or attending the scenes of traumatic events; 
  • a communications officer responding to calls for information and advice in emergency situations or corrective services officer observing disturbing footage via CCTV; or 
  • a person whose role involves investigating, reviewing or assessing traumatic incidents that have happened to other persons e.g., for a court hearing. 

I was once a first responder but have now retired or work in a different sector – can I still apply? 

While there are no time limits for the length of time since you last worked as a first responder and when you lodge a claim, there is a 6-month time frame upon being assessed by a doctor or psychiatrist and lodging your claim. Any supporting documentation from your medical practitioner must support that your PTSD diagnosis was caused by your past work as a first responder or eligible employee. 

As a rule of thumb, first responders and eligible employees are consistently urged to begin the claims process sooner rather than later, in order to access existing early intervention treatment and support through the workers’ compensation scheme. These psychological services include: 

  • general practitioner appointments 
  • counselling or psychology sessions 
  • psychiatry appointments 
  • psychotropic medication relating to your condition 
  • mediation services. 

Gouldson Legal are the workers compensation lawyers you’ll actually want to have on your side when things get rough. Our team are skilled at guiding clients through the claims process which is known for its many twists and turns. Get in touch for a free case review and find out if you are eligible to receive compensation under the amendments to the WCRA.  

Additional resources: 

  • 1300 MH CALL (1300 642 255) is a confidential mental health telephone service for Queenslanders that will link you to public mental health services. 
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14 
  • Beyondblue: 1300 224 636 

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