Sunday, June 1, 2008

Workers' Comp hearing June 2

Injured workers deserve better treatment

Monday we’ll take the quest for positive changes in the programs directed by Wyoming’s Workers’ Compensation and Safety division to the Joint Labor Health and Social Services Committee.

We know that many injured workers, particularly those who suffer permanent partial or total disabilities, too often don’t get the benefits they need and deserve. Many have told heart-breaking stories about economic upheaval that devastates them and their families after their injury.

Some of the problems they encounter are embedded in state law and the division’s interpretation of those laws. Mental injury can be considered compensable only if the worker’s mental state —such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder —can be directly attributed to an injury suffered on the job. At least that’s how the division interprets the law as written.

Adding insult to workplace injury, the division presently asserts that the law says that any mental injury is treatable for a limited time after the physical injury has been healed. It does not matter whether a doctor believes a person still needs treatment.

The ESPC, Wyoming State AFL-CIO and the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association focused on the division after it made an appearance before the Joint Labor Health and Social Services Committee last fall. Division director Gary Childs painted a picture of a smoothly functioning agency that responds quickly to injured workers needs and gets them the help they deserve.

That’s not the story we’ve heard from many injured workers. Beginning in January, the ESPC, AFL-CIO and the WTLA staged public forums in Casper, Cheyenne and Rock Springs. Workers from across the state and many who have moved outside Wyoming came to the hearings to talk about their problems with the system and its administrators.

We’ll go before the committee tomorrow in Casper, speaking after the division makes a presentation scheduled to last four hours.

Among the changes we're asking for:

  • Improve compensation for permanent disabilities.
  • Improve compensation for temporary disabilities.
  • Redefine injury to include all injuries, including mental injuries, arising in the work environment when those injuries are provable and impact that person’s ability to function.
  • Devise a way to ensure the Division’s accountability for increased access to information to help injured workers. This could include establishing an ombudsman’s office.
  • Increase the death benefit.
  • Require the Division to investigate any accident that results in one or more serious bodily injuries.

The hearing starts at 8 a.m. June 2 at the UW Outreach Building, 951 N. Poplar in Casper. Please consider joining us, especially if you're an injured worker who can tell the committee about real experience with the state's Workers' Compensation system.

Keeping children’s issues on the table

Marc Homer of the Wyoming Children’s Action Alliance put together an excellent analysis of Wyoming’s child care needs. You won’t be surprised to hear that demand far exceeds capacity. It’s a great burden on the state’s working families. You can read Marc's column here.