|PTSD cuts a career short|
|Written by Nathan Schlitz|
I recently retired from the Mesa Police Department due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) I was hired by the City of Mesa in 1999, and had to leave the career I love in 2010. I worked eight years as a patrol officer and three years a gang detective. I had focused on gang investigation and enforcement, and being a gang detective was the ultimate dream position for me.
In May of 2009 I was involved in an on-duty critical incident, in which I was forced to shoot a suspect who was trying to run over my partner with a vehicle. During the shooting, a passenger in the suspect’s vehicle was struck by a round and killed. This incident devastated me and I immediately began to experience numerous negative symptoms.
In PTSD, there are four main symptoms that must be present in order to be diagnosed. These four symptoms are depression, isolation, exhaustion, and anger. I experienced each of these, and also began to experience insomnia, flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, avoidance, mood swings, and decreased appetite. I began to distance myself from my family, and did not want to leave my house.
I began treatment with the City’s contracted psychologist, and was diagnosed with PTSD after approximately two months. At the time, the City of Mesa had success sending employees with similar symptoms to a residential treatment facility in California, called the West Coast Post Trauma Retreat, or WCPR.
WCPR is a six day residential treatment program exclusively for first responders who have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of on-duty critical incidents. The treatment program is run by volunteer clinicians and peers, and is one of only two programs of this kind in the country. I attended WCPR as a client in September of 2009, and it was a life changing experience. After attending the program, I was able to return to full duty in October of 2009.
In January of 2010, I was involved in another critical incident involving the pursuit and capture of the suspects who murdered Gilbert P.D. Lieutenant Schuhandler.
After being involved in this incident, I began to experience a lot of the symptoms I had previously dealt with in 2009. The symptom I began to have the most problem with was anger, and it began to affect my work.
During my treatment, I was diagnosed with severe depression and was prescribed Lexapro, an anti-depressant. This medication immediately began helping me, and within weeks I was feeling better about myself. Unfortunately, as my treatment progressed, it became evident that I would no longer be able to do the job I loved and had devoted myself to. So I began the disability retirement process, and was granted a temporary one year disability retirement. In February of 2012, my disability retirement was made permanent, and my career as a police officer was over.
I now fill my days by speaking to others about PTSD in law enforcement, helping others through the disability retirement process, and volunteering as a peer counselor at WCPR in California.
Unfortunately, police officers and other first responders who are diagnosed with PTSD must go through an uphill battle with their employer in order to get what treatment they need. I will say that dealing with the City’s Worker’s
Compensation department created as much stress as the critical incidents themselves. Currently, the City of Mesa’s goal when dealing with an employee who is diagnosed with PTSD is to get that employee back to a full duty work status. I believe the City’s goal should be to get their employee back to full health, regardless of their work status.
This is true of a physical injury, like a broken bone, so why not PTSD? Most employers do not realize that PTSD manifests itself in physical symptoms. Because of this, several clinicians specifically involved in the treatment of PTSD in first responders have taken to calling it Post Traumatic Stress Injury, or PTSI, to emphasize the physical aspect of the injury.
Since I attended WCPR as a client in 2009, the City of Mesa has decided not to send any other employees there for treatment, despite the progress shown by the employees on their return.
The reason given to me by the City’s Worker’s Compensation department was that too many City employees sent to WCPR eventually take disability retirements.
I believe this policy is a detriment to the employee, as the City is not focused on returning their employee to full health. I believe that the City also needs to realize that any person employed as a first responder takes the chance of being involved in a critical incident that could change their perspective or ability to perform their duties.
Unfortunately, that is a chance that first responders take while doing their jobs. However, employees must be able to trust their employers to help them when these incidents do happen.
I would hope that in the future, the City of Mesa would return to sending their first responders dealing with PTSD to a treatment program such as WCPR.
I believe that another thing an employer can do to help their employees is to provide better training about what a first responder may go through in their career. This training should also address what an employee can do to help them when involved in a critical incident, and what steps they should take if treatment is needed. I believe that an employee who knows more about PTSD will be able to more effectively deal with it if needed.
written by Mike, April 18, 2013