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A judge in Pennsylvania on Thursday granted permanent total disability to a police officer with a history of chest pain caused by mental anguish and at least one panic attack, whose condition was “aggravated” to now include post-traumatic stress disorder after he watched a fellow officer die in the line of duty.
Court documents provide a background of the City of Lower Burrell officer’s experiences prior to the 2011 shooting, including chest pain that occurred earlier that year when he went to the aid of a woman still in the kitchen of a burning house and when he was involved in a night-time search for a suspect, according to No. 120 C.D. 2019, filed in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.
His experience as a firefighter was also harrowing: In 2009, while serving as a volunteer firefighter, he witnessed a female victim burn to death in a house fire, according to documents.
The officer was forced to retire in late 2012, after both he and the police force agreed that he suffered from PTSD, which rendered him unfit for duty as a police officer. At that time, he applied for a disability pension, according to documents.
In support of his claim petition, he presented deposition testimony from a psychologist treating him for his panic attacks and a family physician who had been treating him for insomnia and anxiety and who “tended to think Claimant suffered from PTSD, related to the death of the fire victim in 2009 and to (his colleague’s) death in 2011.” The psychologist further testified that the officer had PTSD, “experiencing symptoms of acute stress, chest pains and signs of avoidance.”
The city presented the testimony of an independent medical examination who diagnosed the officer with “serious, premature coronary artery disease, idiopathic (of unknown origin) in nature.” That physician rejected “the proposition that Claimant's coronary artery disease was causally related to his work as a police officer” and deferred questions regarding PTSD to a mental health physician, according to documents.
A workers compensation judge eventually accepted “as credible” the officer’s testimony, noting “Claimant's unshakeable demeanor” and found that “all of Claimant's representations to be believable.”
“In finding that Claimant sustained a work injury in the nature of PTSD, the (judge) specifically found that Claimant suffered an aggravation as a result of the ‘tipping point’ event of (his colleague’s death), superimposed upon Claimant's preexisting conditions of a panic attack disorder and the latent trauma of the 2009 fire victim death,” documents state.
In affirming the claim, the state court found “no error” and gave credit to the testimony of a treating psychologist who, “in his professional opinion” stated that the officer “showed symptoms meeting the necessary criteria for PTSD following (his colleague's) death in October 2011” and could no longer work as a police officer.