Post-traumatic stress disorder has become the second-biggest workers' compensation claim for Minnesota public safety workers, and state officials are stepping up efforts to try to help those workers cope.

Minnesota has offered PTSD benefits since 2013 through the workers' compensation program. Police, fire and emergency medical workers sometimes witness horrific incidents, and many other issues confront them in their jobs.

In Moorhead, police Chief Shannon Monroe said they are tackling issues facing his officers by offering preventative mental and physical health programs, with more in the works. One new effort is a "tactical guardian program" that addresses fitness, nutrition, spirituality and emotional and financial issues.

On the state level, a new effort is getting underway this month with the League of Minnesota Cities hiring a retired police officer and former head of the Saint Mary's University public safety program. Lora Setter will work on educational, outreach and treatment programs concerning PTSD through the League in an effort to help public safety workers and control PTSD workers' comp claims.

Dan Greensweig, director of the League's insurance trust, said claims since 2013, when state legislation was passed to make PTSD eligible, have reached $18.6 million as of Dec. 31. That includes claims paid to 124 public safety workers across the state as well as reserves for future claims.

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In 2020, Greensweig said PTSD is estimated to be about 18% of workers' comp costs, the continuation of an "escalating trend" that puts it behind only claims for sprains and strains for workers in the 783 cities in the League trust. About two-thirds of the PTSD claims are for lost time at work and one-third for medical expenses, the opposite of expenses for most workers' comp claims.

"These are valuable members of our communities unable to work," Greensweig said. "It's a tragedy for everybody."

He said the claims are coming in statewide, and treatment options are better near metropolitan areas than in rural areas.