Firefighter claiming PTSD denied line-of-duty disability
An Illinois appellate court has sided with a pension board that denied disability payments to a firefighter who claimed to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The First District Appellate Court confirmed the pension board decision to deny line-of-duty disability payments to Steven Covello, a firefighter/paramedic in the fire department of the village of Schaumburg.
Covello passed a physical and psychological exam before he was hired, a requirement of new employees. Covello did not receive any psychological or psychiatric treatment for any conditions prior to starting employment with the fire department, according to court records.
In October 2007, Covello began seeing Dr. Thomas Dennison, a psychiatrist, who treated him for a variety of conditions. These included anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hoarding, stuttering and obsessive compulsive disorder, the court documents show.
Throughout the first few years he saw Dr. Dennison, court filings say Covello did not say his work was behind his anxiety. Rather, he stated that his co-workers were a major source of support for him during his treatment.
In his sessions with Dr. Dennison, Covello expressed anxiety over personal issues like his son, a broken engagement, the death of his mother and his tendency to hoard. Dr. Dennison recommended several times that Covello see a counselor but Covello did not, according to court documents.
Covello witnessed many "gruesome injuries" during his 18 years as a firefighter, the filings state. In one instance, he failed to save Officer Frank Russo of the local police department. In October 2013, Covello filed for line-of-duty disability pension benefits around the same time that he underwent surgery to repair a hernia. On his application, he indicated the date that he took Russo to the hospital as the date of his injury. He cited PTSD as his disability on the application.
A disability hearing was held in November 2015 and in January 2016. During the hearings, Covello spoke of the calls that he had found to be traumatic, including one incident where a woman in a car had been crushed by a semi-truck. Covello recalled that he had to put her scalp together. He also discussed the incident involving Russo.
In April 2016, the pension board awarded Covello nonduty disability pension equaling 50 percent of his salary. The board did not find a link between his work and Covello’s disability. However, they did note he was permanently disabled from service due to conditions outside of any act of duty.
In May, Covello filed a complaint for administrative review. A circuit court affirmed the pension board decision.
Covello appealed. He claimed the pension board had applied the wrong standard when they weighed the evidence.
The First District Appellate Court affirmed the circuit court decision. The three-judge panel noted Covello may have experienced trauma during his calls, he only referenced the Russo incident on his application.