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Following Toronto officer's death, attention turns to better PTSD assessment

Last Updated Feb 5, 2016 at 2:35 pm EST

Seven first responders in Ontario have committed suicide this year, according to a PTSD advocacy group, and there have been four more deaths across the country.

Tema Conter Memorial Trust is working to have post-traumatic stress disorder recognized as a work-related illness, while also providing support those suffering from PTSD and their families.

“It feels like almost every day we’re hearing about another first responder, another military member, another communications officer or corrections officer dying by suicide,” Erin Alvarez, the wife of a paramedic, says in a video released by Tema.

“PTSD has become a household name.”

Of those nine first responders who have committed suicide since Jan.1, five were paramedics and four were police officers.  Seven of them worked in Ontario, while one was in Quebec and another was in Alberta.

One of them was Darius Garda, a member of Toronto Police’ 51 Division. His body was pulled from the water near Polson Pier on Thursday morning. His death came just days after Ontario said it would recognize PTSD as a work-related illness for first responders, and nearly six years after he was involved in a fatal police shooting.

Related stories:

Ontario to recognize PTSD as a work-related illness for first responders

Toronto police officer’s body pulled out of Lake Ontario

Toronto paramedics need more help to deal with mental illness, PTSD: ombudsman

“It’s great that the [Ontario] government wants to talk about PTSD but talk won’t compensate past, present or future sufferers of PTSD,” union president Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas said in a statement.

“As the law stands, the burden of proof is on the injured worker, meaning many first responders have been unjustly denied benefits. The law needs to change so the onus is on the employer. Without a change in the law, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board can keep traumatized workers jumping through hoops to prove they got sick on the job. And that just adds insult to injury,” said Thomas, the head of Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

New Democrat Cheri DiNovo, who introduced five private member’s bills over several years trying to extend WSIB coverage to first responders with PTSD, said the government must take steps to recognize that they got sick on the job.

“I can tell you tens of thousands of first responders are upset about how long this has taken,” DiNovo said. “We have the highest rates of suicide in the country for first responders. Something’s got to give.”

Manitoba and Alberta already recognize PTSD as work-related for first responders, and Ontario has presumptive legislation that recognizes many forms of cancer as work-related illnesses for firefighters.

Tema is holding an information session for first responders and their spouses on Feb. 24 in Vaughan. Click here for more information.

With files from The Canadian Press

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