By Dave Orrick, Pioneer Press – April 18, 2022
‘IN THE LINE OF DUTY’
Following widespread attention of suicides by soldiers returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military now classifies an estimated 90 percent of suicides as line-of-duty deaths. But that’s not the case for local peace officers and other first responders because laws and regulations affecting their deaths haven’t changed, and across the nation, those rules specifically exclude suicides from line-of-duty deaths.
“If you’re a soldier, you could come back from one deployment and have PTSD, but if you’re a career law enforcement officer, it could be a single incident, or it could be all that you see over the course of your career,” said state Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville.
Duckworth is a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard whose deployments included serving in Kuwait during the Iraq war, as well as during the riots following the murder of George Floyd and being stationed at the Brooklyn Center Police Department after the police killing of Daunte Wright. Duckworth said he’s known veterans who have suffered from PTSD and died by suicide, and he’s the lead sponsor on a bill in the state Senate to explicitly include suicides by public safety officers as line-of-duty deaths if a mental health provider has diagnosed PTSD from work.
A bill in Congress would similarly change federal law, creating a presumption that a public safety officer suffering from PTSD who dies by suicide is killed in the line of duty. That bill also would make officers diagnosed with PTSD eligible for permanent disability, just like if they had on-the-job physical injuries.
“PTSD can be just as debilitating as physical injuries,” said U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., who is supporting the bill in the U.S. House. “This is a recognition that certain jobs in certain careers have a tough mental health aspect to them. It’s also about a woman and her children who have gone through one of the worst experiences imaginable, and they’ve come out on the other side without the benefits that Cory earned in 20 years of service.”