Both of the territory’s opposition parties are promising a version of legislation they say would help people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Yukon Liberals say they will bring forward presumptive legislation for the Yukon’s first responders. Meanwhile, the NDP are promising similar legislation that includes all workers covered by the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Presumptive legislation means that after getting an official PTSD diagnosis, workers are not required to prove their injury is work-related in order to be covered by the territory’s workers’ compensation rules.
“Research indicates that presumptive legislation allows for faster claim adjudication which means faster access to wage-loss benefits, healthcare and return-to-work services,” said Nils Clarke, the Liberal candidate for Riverdale North.
The Liberal law would cover first responders, Clarke said. Defining which specific jobs would be included in the legislation would happen after the Liberals form government, he said.
In 2015 the Yukon NDP put forward a private member’s bill that would have created presumptive legislation for firefighters, paramedics and emergency dispatchers with PTSD. That bill did not make it to a vote.
NDP MLA Lois Moorcroft said the party heard from people, outside of those covered in the original proposed bill, who also struggle with PTSD as a result of their jobs.
“Frontline health care workers and people delivering mental health support or corrections officers would benefit from being included in the legislation,” she said.
Presumptive legislation would “transition from the onus being on the worker to prove that it is work-related to the onus being on the employer to prove that it is not.”
Moorcroft said she didn’t know if the party had done an analysis of how much a change like that would cost.
“Anytime that someone files a claim to the workers’ compensation board there are systems in place to ensure that they’re legitimate. So there would still be systems in place.”
The president of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs says presumptive legislation is necessary.
Last year Jim Regimbal told the News he didn’t think the territory needed the new law. But, after more research, he’s changed his position and is now in favour of the new rules.
First responders — including people like corrections officers, doctors and nurses — see more on a daily basis than the average person, he said. Once they are officially diagnosed with PTSD, “that should just be it. Your claim should be approved and that’s not happening,” he said.
Regimbal said he’s heard from people who waited months to get their claims approved.
It’s not that the compensation board wants less than the best for people “but there’s nothing in place,” he said.
Presumptive legislation for Canadian first responders is a relatively new idea. Ontario and Manitoba instituted a version of the law this year.
The Ontario law applies to police, firefighters, paramedics, some correctional workers, emergency dispatchers and emergency response teams.
Manitoba’s coverage applies to all workers covered by workers’ compensation in Manitoba.
The Yukon Party doesn’t believe territorial legislation is the way to go right now, according to campaign chair Currie Dixon.
Dixon said the party will be watching how the laws are implemented elsewhere in Canada.
“In the meantime, our focus needs to be on prevention and expanding the services we currently provide, improving them and ensuring that stress injuries are dealt with in a meaningful way.”
Dixon said he’s concerned about how presumptive legislation for first responders would work.
For other presumptive legislation, like the law that assumes firefighters acquired any lung problems on the job, new firefighters get a medical screening before they start work, Dixon said.
Doctors sign off that their lungs are healthy.
“It’s not something that I think is unsolvable, but it’s a legitimate concern that hasn’t been answered by any of these other jurisdictions, is how do you set a baseline standard for mental health?”
Dixon said the Yukon Party will continue to focus on prevention.
“We need to prevent stress injuries from happening and deal with them as they happen so they don’t get worse.”
Right now, if emergency personnel deal with a particularly difficult call, they go through a multi-level process that includes talking about what happened, Dixon said. Outside facilitators can also be brought in to talk to the group and counselling is available.
Dixon said the Yukon Party will have more announcements on the topic later in the campaign. He was not willing to talk about them Tuesday.
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