Minneapolis police officers rattled by the unprecedented public unrest after the killing of George Floyd have filed for mental and physical disability claims at worrying levels, according to an attorney handling their cases.
Ron Meuser Jr., who held a news conference across the street from City Hall on Friday afternoon, said that some 150 Minneapolis police officers out of a sworn force of 850 have contacted him to start filing disability paperwork, a majority for symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Seventy-five of those officers have already left the force, and he expects many more to follow, he said.
"While law enforcement is a high-stress career, the last two months in Minneapolis have pushed many officers to their breaking point," said Meuser.
At least 13 officers were inside the Third Precinct building when it was ordered abandoned by city officials, Meuser said, and some of them wrote final notes and texts to loved ones while others said they would reserve their last bullet for themselves to avoid being beaten to death.
His numbers haven't been confirmed by city officials, and when asked about lower numbers reported at City Hall, Meuser said there may be bureaucratic reasons or paperwork delays with disability claims filed at the Public Employees Retirement Association that could account for the difference.
A city spokeswoman said the city has received 17 PTSD workers' compensation claims from officers over the past 30 days. Spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said the officers don't have to tell the city when they submit an application for disability benefits through PERA.
A Minneapolis police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Minneapolis police officers' union declined to comment. The state's workers' compensation statute was amended in 2013 to recognize PTSD as legitimate grounds for claiming benefits. The move made Minnesota one of a handful of states to include PTSD in the list of injuries that could result in a successful workers' compensation claim. And a modification to the law last year created a statutory presumption whereby if police officers develop PTSD, it's presumed to have developed because of their work.
To qualify for benefits due to PTSD, an officer must provide two medical reports attesting to their condition, one of which must come from a licensed medical doctor, according to Doug Anderson at PERA. The benefit continues until they are no longer considered disabled or until they reach retirement age. An officer who goes on disability for PTSD would get at least 60% of his or her salary until they retire or are no longer considered disabled, Anderson said.
Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said last year's change in state law "is likely to result in more first-responders filing for PTSD and becoming eligible for long-term disability, which would be a cost to the city in a long-term fashion."
"There was concern or anticipation that there might be more coming and just a general concern about the cost to local governments, including Minneapolis, for this state law change that didn't include any financial support to cities who are bearing the cost of the requirement," Bender said.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, chairwoman of the council's budget committee, said these types of claims have been a "known issue," and the city has been working for two years to try to mitigate the effects of state law.
"This is difficult for cities like ours," Palmisano said. "It's also absolutely devastating for smaller cities."
Mayor Jacob Frey said that state law needs to reflect dedication to healing while cities need the resources to back it.
"In the meantime, I am committed to supporting those officers committed to carrying out their oath to serve and protect the people of Minneapolis during a challenging time for our city," he said.