Another attempt to boost benefits for first responders

DES MOINES — Lawmakers in the Iowa House are making another attempt to change benefits for first responders covered by Iowa’s municipal retirement system.

Under current law, firefighters, police and EMTs are eligible for disability as well as death benefits if they’re diagnosed with one of 14 types of cancer. Earlier this year, the House unanimously approved a bill to extend disability and death benefits for Iowa police and firefighters diagnosed with any type of cancer, but the plan failed to pass a senate committee by a mid-March deadline. Thursday, the same bill cleared the House Ways and Means Committee.

Representative Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton is the committee’s chairman.   “Our sixth and hopefully final time at attempting to provide parity in the 411 system for our police officers and firefighters,” Kaufmann said. “This is not an exercise in futility. I have expectations of a real hearing in the (Senate), which is something we have not received in the past five years.”

Brandon Pflanzer (FLAN-zer) is secretary/treasurer of Iowa Professional Firefighters.  “What it really is about is fairness. It’s about making sure that we are public employees — firefighters, police officers, EMS providers cross the state of Iowa have the same workers compensation benefits as those in the private sector. Right now that’s not true,” he says. “It also is about fairness in recognizing the risks that our members take and how it lives with them throughout the rest of their life for the service they provide.”

Waterloo Police Captain Jason Feaker is second vice president of Iowa State Police Officers Association. He says the group’s pleased the bill also requires local governments to cover the costs of mental health evaluations as part of the annual physicals for first responders. The bill also says police and firefighters qualify for accidental disability benefits if a mental injury is linked to an on-duty incident.  “This will help us get on track with the PTSD that a lot of our members deal with daily,” he says.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about a third of first responders have PTSD at some point in their careers.