(SACRAMENTO) – Yesterday, legislation authored by Assemblymember Timothy S. Grayson (D-Concord) to provide effective, accessible mental health services for public safety officers was vetoed by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
“This decision displays an unfortunate disregard for the well-being of the brave women and men who put their lives on the line to protect Californians and sends a message to all public safety officers that their mental health is not a priority,” said Assemblymember Grayson, who has also served as the Concord Police Department’s Critical Response Chaplain for more than a decade. “It is disappointing that a bill that received the unanimous, bipartisan support of both houses of the legislature did not also have the support of our Governor.”
AB 1116 would have established a Peer Support and Crisis Referral pilot program to allow for confidential communication between firefighters, parole officers, and correctional officers and their respective peers who have undergone proper peer-support training. By building off of the informal social support many emergency service personnel are already receiving, this bill aimed to decrease stigma around mental health, increase access to qualified support services, and help individuals to identify potential high-risk situations before a crisis event occurs.
“In the days since this bill was delivered to the Governor’s desk, at least two more firefighters have tragically taken their own lives,” continued Assemblymember Grayson. “If we do not take action to increase access to trained peer-support counselors, we will continue to be confronted with preventable tragedies like these.”
The long-term effects of stress associated with public safety professions can lead to post-traumatic stress, heart disease, substance abuse, or tragically, even suicide. Correctional officers consider or attempt suicide at a rate that is nearly three times that of the general population, and in the last year more firefighters died by suicide than on duty. Too often professionals in these fields are reluctant to seek help because of a perception that they should not show weakness, or due to a fear that it will adversely impact their employment.
“Firefighters regularly respond to emergencies that are both stressful and heart wrenching,” said Brian K. Rice, President of California Professional Firefighters. “The job is even more violent today than when I first started, and the stigma attached to behavioral health often prevents firefighters from reaching out for help to address the mental and emotional toll of firefighting. The Governor’s veto is disappointing, as it will make it harder for firefighters to open up about their experiences to peer supporters, the people who have walked in their shoes.”
“Vetoing this pilot program legislation makes it harder to know if changes to the current practices could better serve the many first responders who often suffer in silence,” said Michael E. Smalley, Administrator of California Correctional Peace Officers Benefit Trust Fund. “Despite this disappointing outcome, we will continue to pursue all avenues available to us to seek better treatment for our officers when it comes to their mental health and wellness.”
Assemblymember Grayson remains committed to fighting for access to mental health services for all Californians, including our public safety officers.
Tim Grayson represents the 14th Assembly District that includes the communities of Benicia, Concord, Clayton, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Vallejo, Pittsburg and Walnut Creek. For more information please visit the Assemblymember’s website, www.assembly.ca.gov/a14.