Mental health program funding for SC first responders put on pause

Mental health program funding for SC first responders put on pause
Mental health continues to be a big topic as more studies reveal that first responders have a higher risk of developing PTSD, and suicide rates are going up. (Source: Live 5 News)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Mental health continues to be a big topic as more studies reveal that first responders have a higher risk of developing PTSD, and suicide rates are going up.

“Everybody asks about the good calls, but it’s the bad calls that keep you up at night,” says David Diaz, a retired firefighter who is now a part of the Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team. “We saw a lot of stuff and when you see as much as we do, along comes PTSD.”

Diaz says mental health programs are crucial to help the people who protect us, especially during COVID-19.

Every year since 2016, the South Carolina General Assembly has allocated $500,000 to a program that helps first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Half of the money goes to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, to help law enforcement officers and dispatchers, and the other half goes to the South Carolina State Firefighters' Association who support firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics.

Due to financial strains caused by the pandemic, the state is being funded through a continuing resolution that operates at fiscal year 2019-20 levels.

That means the money for assistance programs to aid first responders has not been approved yet.

Charlie King, the Executive Director of SC State Firefighters' Association, says they have a good relationship with legislators, and they hope the funding will go through when lawmakers reconvene in January.

Right now, they are using extra money to pay for the PTSD insurance policy which reimburses first responders for therapy as well as other critical programs.

“Our organization and our fire service continue to believe this to be a critical need for our first responders to provide that support and has chosen to step up and provide that [service],” King says. “In the meantime, with some existing moneys that we have, we are continuing to provide the core services and clinical support in peer support training and in response to clinical events, but the ancillary support events are being postponed at this time.”

To learn more about mental health programs the SC State Firefighters' Association offers, click here, or call 844.972.3278.

The Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team also offers free mental health programs. For more information, visit their website or call (843) 609-8300.

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