Missouri’s first responders could be in store for extra help when seeking mental health services. A bill awaiting a decision from Gov. Mike Parson would broaden an existing firefighter cancer trust fund to also help cover mental health services for other first responders, including 911 operators.

Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said his bill is designed to make sure the state has the backs of first responders.

“This legislation seeks to give these individuals that are first responders, when they do reach out and they say, ‘You know what? I’m a 911 operator and that call that I just got off of shook me. Maybe I need to talk to somebody about what I’m going through.’ And the end goal, really here, is to make sure that they’re in a good place and ready to get back to work and do the jobs that we need them to do,” said Hough.

His bill, called the “Missouri First Responder Mental Health Initiative Act”, would cover things like peer-to-peer counseling and professional counseling.

“Senator Blunt did tremendous work on this through the last several years of his career in the United States Senate, treating mental health just like you treat the quote unquote, physical health, when you break an arm, and you go to the ER, and you get an x-ray, and all that kind of stuff. The more we can normalize it, the more we can explain to folks that you don’t, there’s not an issue saying I need a little bit of help,” he said.

Hough said he intentionally left his bill broad enough so that these workers are not running into a lot of government red tape.

“The last thing I want is for someone to reach out and say, I could use a little help here. They’re told, ‘I’m sorry that’s not covered under this legislation passed last year.’ Peer to peer counseling is covered in there, professional counseling, obviously,” said Hough.

He said mental health should be treated like physical health – a philosophy he said former Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt worked hard to instill in legislation at the federal level.

“Senator Blunt did tremendous work on this through the last several years of his career in the United States Senate, treating mental health just like you treat the quote unquote, physical health, when you break an arm, and you go to the ER, and you get an x-ray, and all that kind of stuff. The more we can normalize it, the more we can explain to folks that you don’t, there’s not an issue saying I need a little bit of help,” he said.

This is the first year that he sponsored the bill. Passing a policy bill the first year it has been offered is uncommon.

“As I visited with some first responder groups, they said, ‘This is going to take a long time. We’ve been working on this for years. Some of those groups had been talking about this in one way or another for 10, 12, 14 years. And for whatever reason, just never had risen to the level of actually passing this type of legislation,” said Hough. “I think that shows you right there, how far we’ve come as a state, as a community as a whole, in understanding the value in not just talking about this, but acting when we need to, and supporting those folks that that need the support.”

To view Senate Bill 24, click here.

Copyright © 2023