Tennessee General Assembly passes PTSD presumption

April 28 • 2023

Dustin Samples

Legislation to create a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) presumption for fire fighters was passed unanimously by the Tennessee House and Senate thanks to the strong lobbying efforts of the Tennessee Professional Fire Fighters Association (TPFFA). The bill now heads to Governor Bill Lee, who is expected to sign it into law.

The James “Dustin” Samples Act – named in memory of the 22-year veteran Cleveland, TN Local 3748 member – seeks to honor the legacy of Samples, who bravely fought PTSD for many years before ultimately succumbing to the disease in 2020.

“Our members are exposed to trauma on a daily basis, putting them at significant risk for developing PTSD and other behavioral health concerns,” said TPFFA President Matthew Tomek. “This legislation will enable us to honor Brother Samples’ memory and allow our members to get the help they need early. We are grateful to all our friends in the General Assembly for supporting this bill.”

The new presumption, allowing fire fighters to access workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD, comes with certain stipulations, such as being diagnosed by a mental health professional and having the disorder be the result of one of the following factors:

(1) Directly witnessing the death of a minor, or treating the injury of a minor, who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department;

TPFFA President Matthew Tomek and state IAFF members

(2) Directly witnessing an individual whose death involved a serious bodily injury of a nature that shocks the conscience;

(3) Responding to an event where there was a victim with a serious bodily injury that shocks the conscience; or

(4) Responding to an event where a responder, co-worker of a responder, or family member of a responder sustained a serious bodily injury or died.

The new law not only presumes PTSD as a work-related injury for fire fighters, but also establishes a grant program to help employers cover the cost of workers’ compensation claims. To qualify for the grant, employers must provide mental health resiliency training as part of their regular education program.

The James “Dustin” Samples Act will take effect Jan. 1, 2024.