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New legislation proposed to help provide mental health services to first responders struggling with PTSD

Under Georgia law there's not a way for a first responder to get help for PTSD unless they're also physically injured.

There's a new push to help first responders struggling with Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

From firefighters to police officers to dispatchers, currently, none of them are eligible for a worker's compensation claim to deal with a psychological injury unless they first have a physical injury to heal.

In an 11Alive exclusive, a metro Atlanta officer is leading the charge on a new proposed bill just filed that could change that.

Ashley Wilson joined the police force at 24. 

"I was excited. I was going to go out there and make a difference," she said. 

She says she soon realized the cost of making that difference. 

"I had absolutely no idea about the horrible things that people can do to each other. And unfortunately, I found out real quick," she said. 

Wilson says the learning curve is steep for everyone all first responders, as soon as they answer their first call. 

She knows a firefighter who was recently let go after admitting to his chain of command that he was struggling with the mental toll of the job. 

"To me, I was just taken back that he was reaching out for help and he got fired," she said. 

Wilson says under Georgia law there's not a way for a first responder to get help for PTSD unless they're also physically injured. 

"If you get shot and you have PTSD it would be covered. But if you watch your best friend get shot, it's not," she said. 

She says that's true for firefighters, dispatchers, corrections officers, and law enforcement. 

When Wilson saw how many of her friends were struggling with their mental health in the line of duty, she decided to do something about it. 

"I wanted to make sure what I was asking for was reasonable. So I researched every state and I looked up what's on their books for a worker's compensation. And what I read was awesome, but then made me really sad because I found out that Georgia is so far behind the times," she said. 

Wilson reached out to State Representative Gregg Kennard. 

"When she contacted me, I was like, how is this not already in code? It just makes so much sense. And that's why we are bringing it forward in this session," Rep. Kennard said.

He just filed the legislation Monday that would change that.  

"What this legislative measure does is it enables someone who has experienced psychological injury, it makes them eligible for a workman's comp claim," he said. 

The bill would allow first responders, who are diagnosed with PTSD by a mental healthcare professional, to be eligible for services provided by the state before it gets too far. 

"We really hope that we can convince more first responders to reach out before they find out that rock bottom has a basement," Wilson said. 

They're hopeful the bill will get a committee hearing soon so it can be heard by the full legislature this session. 

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