Police Association Secretary Ron Iddles says emergency services are exposed to more trauma, suffering and death in a single shift than most Victorians would deal with in a lifetime.
Police and ambulance mental health unions want radical change to mental health treatment
Keith Moor, Herald Sun
June 28, 2016 8:00pm
Report says Victoria Police fail to care for members’ mental health
VICTORIA’S police and ambulance unions want the Andrews Government to make a radical change to the way its members get mental health treatment.
The powerful organisations have joined forces and will on Wednesday announce a concerted political campaign on behalf of the state’s 18,000 police and paramedics.
What they want is a reversal of the onus of proof so employers have to prove an employee’s post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t caused by workplace trauma — and they want it now.
At present, it is up to emergency service personnel to show they got PTSD on the job.
The two unions have told Police Minister Lisa Neville the current system means much-needed treatment can be delayed for years as WorkSafe Victoria disputes claims.
In a hard-hitting submission, which has been seen by the Herald Sun, the Police Association and Ambulance Employees Australia asked Ms Neville to legislate to ensure:
Police Minister Lisa Neville meets with Victoria Police members. Picture: Mark Stewart
■ The proposed legislation includes a clause with retrospective effect so any emergency services worker’s claim denied prior to the new law can be resubmitted with updated medical evidence for reassessment.
■ That PTSD is defined as a proclaimed illness for all emergency service workers.
■ The cumulative nature of PTSD with respect to emergency services workers is recognised.
“Our emergency services are exposed to more trauma, suffering and death in a single shift than most Victorians would deal with in a lifetime,” Police Association Secretary Ron Iddles told the Herald Sun.
“This is further compounded by an organisational culture that discourages help seeking.
“The system needs to change so that an emergency services worker who is suffering from PTSD will have their worker’s compensation claim automatically accepted.
“This would mean relieving emergency services workers of the added stress and burden of having to prove they have developed PTSD from their occupation in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits before seeking the immediate help they need.”
Ambulance Employees secretary Steve McGhie said removing the adversarial approach to PTSD claims would reduce the stress and anxiety felt by emergency services workers and enable earlier treatment so they make a speedier recovery and return to work sooner.
Ambulance Employees secretary Steve McGhie says changing the approach to post-traumatic stress disorder would reduce emergency services workers’ stress and anxiety.
“We know from extensive research and anecdotal evidence that our police, ambulance and firefighters are around ten times more likely to develop PTSD than the general population,” he said.
“It would therefore help those who are suffering to bring in a system that immediately helps rather than hinders their already tough road toward recovery.”
Swan Hill copper Joe Walsh was one of the first people to attend the horrific Kerang rail disaster in 2007.
As a long-serving Victoria Police officer, he had seen bodies and badly injured people before.
But Kerang was worse than anything he had ever experienced — and it got personal.
Former Victoria Police officer Joe Walsh was one of the first people to attend the horrific Kerang rail disaster in 2007.
A fully-laden truck lies beside the rail track a day after it slammed at high speed into a train near Kerang in Australia’s worst rail crash in 30 years. Picture: Craig Borrow/AFP
Among the 11 people who died in the disaster was a good friend of the then leading senior constable Walsh.
That friend’s daughter was also killed.
“I knew on the night it had hit me hard, I just didn’t know how hard at that time,” Mr Walsh, 53, said yesterday.
His mental problems were made worse because his work cover insurance claim was initially rejected — despite two doctors and a psychologist diagnosing him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
That meant he didn’t get the help he needed during the 18 months his lawyers battled with WorkSafe.
Mr Walsh said if the onus of proving PTSD wasn’t work related was on the employer, rather than the employee having to prove it was, then he would probably still be in the force.
“I initially wanted to get back to work after being on sick leave after Kerang,” he said.
“But after the way I was treated by Victoria Police, with no help offered, and by the work cover insurer, who fought against approving my claim for 18 months, I was that bitter it would have been nearly impossible for me to return to work.
“Eventually the force retired me on the grounds of ill-health after 27 years in the job.”
Another force veteran, who asked not to be identified, said she fell victim to all the traumatic events she had been to and seen in her 25 years as a police officer.
“The work cover process was daunting and one I was reluctant to enter,” she said.
“The stigma and feelings of guilt about being diagnosed with a mental illness made reaching out for help hard.
“The delay in the work cover system meant I didn’t get appropriate treatment for eight months.”
py of the submission to government with confidential sections (mostly member details/stories redacted for confidentiality reasons) redacted can be found here