Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bill allows first responders suffering from PTSD to get workers' comp

Cocoa firefighter fighting for PTSD bill: We're not going to stop
News 13 Orlando
By Julie Gargotta, Reporter
April 14, 2017
In January he returned to work. But, for the last few months he's also found new purpose -- fighting for a bill which would extend workers' compensation to first responders with PTSD.
COCOA -- Although the clock is running out on the legislative session, those fighting for a bill which would provide workers’ comp for PTSD-suffering first responders aren’t deterred.
Firefighter Josh Vandegrift was working a scene where a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle, but when he looked at the victim he saw his own brother. The situation left him struggling with PTSD. Now he's fighting to get a bill passed to allow workers' comp for first responders with PTSD. (Julie Gargotta, Staff)
Bill allows first responders suffering from PTSD to get workers' comp
Bill in danger in Florida House, Senate
Josh Vandegrift, firefighter, fighting for the bill
“We’re not going to stop," said Josh Vandegrift, who is heading to Tallahassee this weekend to share his story during Monday's hearing. “I was stunned, because I can sprain my pinkie on a call and be covered through workmans' comp. But, seeing my little brother dead in the middle of the street isn’t covered.”

A call last July changed the Cocoa firefighter's life forever: While on duty, Vandegrift was dispatched to the scene of a vehicle versus pedestrian crash.

“I’m clearing the people out of the way and I look down. And my brother had a tattoo on the side of his neck and I saw the tattoo. I was like that’s my brother," he said. “I was screaming his name, crying. It was like a flashback of our lives together, because I knew it wasn’t good.”

Emergency crews rushed Vandegrift's youngest brother, Nate, to the hospital, but he died.

“It’s a firefighter or cop’s worst nightmare, is running in on a family member. And it happened to me. And ever since then I’ve been dealing with it," he said.

Ten days later, Vandegrift sought treatment, later diagnosed with PTSD, acute anxiety and depression. The firefighter said that he couldn't eat or sleep, and began immersing himself in wood projects for the therapeutic effects.

“I wanted to make a place for myself and my family to be able to relax. I built a table completely out of pallet wood, took me six weeks. I call it the family table," he said, skimming over a large, lacquered table in his backyard. “It helped me mentally to create something from nothing.”
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