More health coverage needed for officers suffering PTSD

The wife of an Orlando police officer is lobbying for changes that could help first responders who deal with the emotional demands of the job.

Jessica Realin learned Thursday that her efforts will begin to pay off when legislation is drafted by Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, next week in Tallahassee.  Realin said that when she got word it was “like Christmas morning.”

Right now, police, firefighters and paramedics don’t get paid if they have to take time off to deal with psychological issues that are developed on the job.    

Realin’s husband, Orlando Police Officer Gerry Realin, has been off the job for most of the last year recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder developed after the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Officer Realin is a member of the Hazmat Team that helped identify the victims and clean up the nightclub. 
When Gerry Realin’s doctor told him he should not go back to work until his PTSD was under control, the family learned that in Florida first responders are paid while they’re off the job because of physical injuries incurred in the line of duty, but not for work-related psychological issues. 

That means first responders have to choose between getting paid and taking time off to get help. 

"Always, unfortunately, it's going to come with 'I need to feed my family and take care of my family,’” Jessica Realin said.

If lawmakers agree to the changes the Realins have been hoping for, police officers, firefighters and paramedics will be entitled to back pay if they have to take time off to deal with mental health issues. 

“This bill is to help them.  It's to make it so they can come out and say I'm hurt.  I need some treatment so they can get back to work,” Jessica Realin said.