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A war veteran and former police officer is entitled to industrial disability retirement benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder that he said was in part caused by his police work, an appellate court judge held on Tuesday.
In Rodriguez v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board, the California Court of Appeals, 6th District reversed a workers compensation board’s decision that the officer’s claim for benefits was untimely.
Gulf War veteran Josafat Rodriguez Jr. worked as a police officer for the City of Santa Cruz from 1995 until 2007. In the war, he had served as a marine and experienced combat violence and the loss of fellow marines. When he returned from war, he was hired as a detective in the narcotics and gang task force unit of the police department. In 2000, he injured his back during a nighttime raid and was unable to work for a year. He had back surgery in 2005 and was cleared to return to work in 2006, but said he was not physically able to perform the necessary duties. He filed an application with the city for industrial disability retirement based on his back injury, which was denied. He returned to work briefly in 2007 but resigned for health reasons.
After being examined by Department of Veterans Affairs counselors, he applied for veteran’s disability retirement and reapplied to the city for disability retirement, citing PTSD, but failed to check the “industrial” box on the form.
The city eventually granted his retirement but denied his claim of industrial causation. Mr. Rodriguez requested a finding that his disability was industrial and due to his job. The workers compensation appeals board sided with Mr. Rodriguez on the industrial nature of his disability, but found that he was barred from receiving industrial disability retirement benefits because his claim was untimely. He filed a petition for a writ of review of the board’s decision.
The appellate court held that Mr. Rodriguez’s claims were timely filed, noting that Mr. Rodriguez first sought disability retirement from the city in 2011 when he discovered that his PTSD was caused in part by his service as a police officer, and after years of litigation, requested an initial determination of industrial causation in 2017 — five months after he first began receiving retirement benefits. The city argued that because the statute of limitation is five years, his filing five years and seven months after his PTSD diagnosis was time barred, but the appellate court held that the city and baord’s interpretation of the statute was flawed, finding that the statute did not apply because the board itself had not made an initial finding of industrial or nonindustrial disability. Rather, the court held that the proper time limitation was the two-year statute of limitations, which begins the effective date of an individual’s retirement, which was on Dec. 1, 2016, when the city granted Mr. Rodriguez’s disability retirement and he began receiving his retirement allowance.
Therefore, the court held that the board erred as a matter of law and remanded the case with orders to grant Mr. Rodriguez’s claim for industrial causation.
Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A bill that would make certain mental or emotional impairments suffered by first responders compensable in Connecticut is awaiting Gov. Ned Lamont’s signature.