Workers’ compensation insurance covers on-the-job injuries for most Iowa workers. It pays benefits to injured employees for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages they suffer due to work-related injury or illness. In Iowa, certain kinds of non-bodily injuries, including psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, may be covered by workers’ comp under certain circumstances.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing a traumatic event or injury. It can involve having upsetting memories, feeling on edge, and/or having trouble sleeping or participating in normal daily activities. Four major symptoms are reliving the event (or “re-experiencing” symptoms), avoiding situations that remind you of the event, having more negative beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (“hyperarousal”).[1] If you have these symptoms, and they persist longer than a few months, you may have PTSD. You should consult with a medical professional for an evaluation and diagnosis; treatment can include psychotherapy and/or medication.

Can PTSD be work related?

Accidents that cause injuries in the workplace can be traumatic. Recovery can involve both physical rehabilitation and psychological recuperation; some injured workers continue to experience symptoms of PTSD after their bodies have healed. Workers can also experience PTSD from witnessing horrific occurrences in the workplace, like an accident or injury involving a coworker, an act of violence, or a pattern of mistreatment or abuse. Additionally, PTSD can result from the ordinary performance of intensely stressful jobs like EMTs, firefighters, police officers, medical professionals, and many others. Experiencing or witnessing multiple violent or intense occurrences over time in the workplace can lead to PTSD, as can long-term engagement in a hostile, stressful work environment.

A worker must prove two components to establish a right to benefits under the worker’s comp system for any injury, including PTSD: that he or she was engaged in work activities when the injury occurred or developed and that the nature of those work activities contributed to the injury’s development.[2] The Iowa Supreme Court broadly interprets the law to cover a wide range of work-related activities as being within the scope of workers’ compensation coverage; it doesn’t limit coverage to activities that directly constitute the employee’s job duties. It has also broadly interpreted the word “injury” to include not only singular and traumatic events but also the gradual worsening of a condition over time, the development of mental conditions like depression or anxiety, and the aggravation of pre-existing conditions.

How can I recover workers’ compensation for my PTSD?

Proving causality (i.e., that a condition is work related) is particularly challenging for a psychological illness or injury such as PTSD. Like other work-related injuries, you must give notice to your employer or its agent that you have suffered an injury in the course of your employment, on or about a specified time, at or near a certain location, within 90 days after the “occurrence of the injury.” This date can sometimes be difficult to determine, especially for chronic conditions that develop gradually like PTSD. Consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for advice in pursuing claims for conditions like these.

If you’ve suffered PTSD or other injuries caused in whole or in part by your working conditions, been the victim of or a witness to an incident that caused injury, or suffer from a chronic illness that may be connected to your employment, you may be entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Contact the Platt Law Firm for help evaluating whether you have an Iowa workers’ compensation claim and to explore your potential legal options.

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