More protections are needed for first responders in New Jersey who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of the job, according to a proposed state law advancing in Trenton.

Legislation that's been approved by committees in both the Senate and Assembly prohibits employers of first responders from discriminating against — for example, firing or limiting privileges — workers who take or request leave related to a professional diagnosis of PTSD.

"PTSD is a serious problem with first responders," said Pete Guzzo, with the New Jersey State Fraternal Order Of Police. "This bill would allow them to come out from the shadows, so to speak, so that they wouldn't fear the threat of losing their job if they indicate that they have PTSD."

The measure approved on Monday by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee includes EMTs and 911 dispatchers in its definition of first responders. A PTSD diagnosis would qualify if it comes from a licensed physician or mental health professional, and is linked to trauma experienced on the job.

"We never talk about what we saw. It's called critical stress debriefing — we don't do that, we internalize it," said Anthony Tarantino, of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey.

The Assembly version of the measure unanimously cleared a committee on March 14. State Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, abstained from voting on the bill on Monday.

Gill said she agrees with the idea of the bill — these workers need extraordinary protections — but it doesn't include any requirement related to treatment.

"I think without the treatment part, it could be open for abuse," Gill said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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