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First responders plead their case to lawmakers for PTSD coverage bill

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) -- Lawmakers in Columbia spent part of Wednesday discussing a bill that would cover PTSD assistance for law enforcement officers that stems from last September's shooting of sheriff's deputy Joe Matuskovic.

Dep. Michael Ackerman was injured in that shooting, and now suffers from PTSD which isn't covered by the state's workman's compensation policy.

Members of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee heard dramatic differences of opinion on the bill that includes PTSD for worker's compensation claims. Senators heard the most passionate pleas in favor of it by first responders from Charleston County.

"Members of the Charleston Fire Department, myself included, were standing in the building, burned building. Once the fire had been extinguished and retrieved bodies, " said George Aytes, a retired Charleston fireman describing the trauma of the Sofa Super Store fire.

Aytes still gets choked up talking about the fire where nine of his fellow firefighters were killed.

"The day came when I was heading to the hunting club to stop to the nightmares," he said.

Aytes told members of a Senate subcommittee that he almost took his own life because of PTSD. He and other first responders explained the need to add PTSD coverage for worker's compensation.

"We see workman's comp cover a broken leg which can heal within a year. If not sooner. But we have emotional wounds that are far more damaging that continue," said Rich Robinson with the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy.

But an attorney for the Municipality Association of South Carolina argues many cities already offer generous benefits that include counseling services.

"If you're paying workers compensation benefits in addition to state disability retirement you're going to be looking at a situation where you're effectively paying twice for the same benefits," said Hubert Wood.

Still, state Sen. Paul Thurmond, who is co-sponsoring the bill, stand by the need to cover PTSD for law enforcement.

"Unfortunately, we can either turn our backs on the people who represent us or we can do what's right and step up to the plate and do what's right for those people," he said.

Committee members will continue discussions on the bill next week. But at this point, the chairman of the committee says he isn't in favor of it.

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