Tennessee IAFF members ended their 170-mile post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness walk at the state capitol on February 23. The fire fighters were met with supporters for new state legislation that, if passed, would make a PTSD diagnosis for fire fighters presumed to be an injury acquired on the job.
Thanks to the walk and initial lobbying efforts, HB 1356/SB 1023 has a fast-growing list of cosponsors in the state House and Senate. Dubbed the James “Dustin” Samples Act, the legislation honors a Cleveland, TN Local 3748 member who lost his battle with PTSD in December 2020.
“I am very proud of our members, the 303 Project and those who organized and participated in the Walk for Dustin for all the hard work they put into garnering support for the James “Dustin” Samples Act,” says Tennessee Professional Fire Fighters Association (TPFFA) President Matthew Tomek. “We will continue our push until this bill is signed into law.”
Cleveland Local 3748 members Nathan Kuzdzal and Drew Rader organized the Walk for Dustin, traveling 170 miles from Cleveland to Nashville over the course of several days. The walk was supported by the TPFFA and the 303 Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding mental health conditions suffered by first responders.
On the morning of February 23, Tennessee members marched the last half mile to the state capital building for a bipartisan event in support of the legislation. In attendance were key state leaders, including Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally.
After a series of remarks on the capital lawn, 100 TPFFA members met with their senators and representatives, asking for their support on the legislation.
“We were pleased to receive the immediate support of our lieutenant governor and speaker of the house,” says Cleveland Local 3748 President Jeremiah Million. “If we are successful in lobbying for the passage of this bill, we hope that other states will follow suit. We want all our brothers and sisters to have easy access to treatment if they need it.”
The legislation is currently in the Finance Ways and Means Committee in both the House and Senate.