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PTSD Bill Sparks Frank Discussion of Mental Health on the Senate Floor

May 30, 2019 - by Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant - A bill to address post-traumatic stress disorder among police officers and firefighters sparked an emotional debate on mental health at the Capitol Wednesday night.

The measure passed the Senate Thursday after additional negotiating over an amendment to include certain medical responders in the legislation.

But on Wednesday, lawmakers engaged in a lengthy, and at times deeply personal, discussion about their own psychological struggles.

Sen. Dan Champagne, a Vernon Republican who spent 22 years as a police officer, recalled his slide into desolation after responding to a series of tragic deaths on a single day. They included a young girl who was accidentally run over by her father and an infant who was smothered when his mother fell asleep in the bed they were sharing.

“I started not sleeping at night,” Champagne recalled. “I was moody ... I went from being normal, nothing going on ... six to eight weeks later, I was a disaster.”

Champagne said he eventually sought help to deal with the lingering trauma.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, is also a former police officer. He discussed the emotional distress he felt after responding to a boy who had intentionally shot himself.

The bill would extend workers’ compensation benefits to police, firefighters and certain medical responders who are diagnosed with PTSD after they view a deceased minor, witness a death or an injury that causes a death shortly after, treat an injured person who later dies or witness an incident where someone is dismembered or disfigured.

Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro, R-New Britain, was never a police officer or firefighter. But he spoke of his struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Bizzarro said he is sometimes consumed by “recurring and persistent thoughts, images that just won’t leave.” That triggers compulsive behavior, such as organizing his papers repeatedly or touching the corners of objects.

Bizzarro talked about how he is compelled to check the windows in his home to ensure they are shut.

“I know I locked them in the morning before I left," he said. "I know nobody touches them in the house because they know how I am, but I’ve got to check them anyway ... that might add 45 minutes to my routine at night before I can go to bed.”

Kathy Flaherty, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, praised the open manner with which lawmakers discussed their own mental health conditions.

“The more of us who talk about what its like to live with a mental health condition, and the more of us who feel we can be free and open about life, the better off all of us will eventually be,” she said. “This may be another little chip away at the discrimination that so many people with mental health conditions face.”

Flaherty said the openness makes a difference.

"People don’t always realize the impact they may be having on other people, but somebody who sees that debate ... may feel differently about something that they’re challenged with so I think it’s a good thing,” she said.

Daniela Altimari can be reached at

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