National EMS Week: Budgeting for PTSD
By Allison G. S. Knox, M.A., EMT-B, faculty member at American Military University
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has received a lot of public attention in recent years as American service members returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The struggles of these military personnel returning with PTSD have shed light on the issues and challenges of this often debilitating disorder. It is nothing short of a terrible illness for the ways it hijacks the lives of individuals.
In recognition of National EMS Week from May 15 to 21, it is important to understand how PTSD affects emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics, and other members of the first responder community.
Responding to emergency medical calls can be traumatic; individuals working in such an environment are often profoundly affected by it. But what is often misunderstood is that even scenes that are not particularly gruesome can also have a lasting effect on responders.
What we understand about the disorder is that it builds over time or builds from the stress of encountering multiple incidents over time. can be triggered by myriad different things that often affect individuals in different ways.
When someone is suffering from PTSD, their performance impacts their entire EMS team. While responding to a call, an individual with PTSD often lacks focus. They can easily miss something important with a patient causing issues regarding care. Individuals suffering from PTSD can also become irritable and unpredictable making them a security threat to the crew they’re working with. Working with someone who is suffering from untreated PTSD is dangerous and can greatly impact patient care and employee safety.
Developing Policies and Budgets around PTSD
June 27 is recognized as National PTSD Awareness Day. While the tremendous amount of awareness about PTSD has helped educate and inform people, the EMS community must take it a step further.
PTSD needs to be made a budgetary policy priority in communities throughout the United States. That means agencies and local governments must adopt policies to account for the impact PTSD has on their workers.
For example, agencies should budget for additional resources to help employees cope with traumatic situations before it develops into PTSD. This includes making psychiatric services available for EMTs and paramedics. Doing so will greatly help individuals recognize and address trauma and hopefully improve their resiliency.
If agencies cannot budget for such services, it is worth reaching out to local psychiatric service providers to request a discount for employees and/or volunteers. PTSD issues need to be at the forefront of local public safety policy. Without it, we’re asking our first responders to struggle on their own.
About the Author: Allison G. S. Knox is on the faculty at American Military University. An emergency medical technician and a political scientist, Allison’s research interests are comprised of federalism and emergency management/emergency medical services policy issues. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds Master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies and International Relations and History, as well as a graduate certificate in Homeland Security. She is working on her doctorate in Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech. Allison currently serves as the chapter sponsor and faculty adviser for the West Virginia Iota Chapter of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society, and also serves as the Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society. She advocates for issues affecting emergency medical services.