A lawyer acting for officers with post traumatic stress disorder says aggressive observance of them is taking a further toll on their health, writes CYDONEE MARDON
Illawarra officers are among the 268 psychologically injured police waiting in limbo for their compensation claims to be settled.
Slater and Gordon principal lawyer John Cox says the unnecessary delays are having a significant impact on sick men and women at risk of "exacerbating their illness and quite frankly suicide".
He has called for the immediate appointment of an independent panel to deal with outstanding Total Permanent Disablement (TPD) claims now in the hands of MetLife and TAL insurers.
"It's vital these cases are settled. We can't allow another suicide of a cop waiting for insurance.''
"Most of the clients I have in that group are already facing delays of two to three years ... these people that are being most significantly impacted by the drawn-out process are the people most at risk," Mr Cox said.
"It's vital these cases are settled. We can't allow another suicide of a cop waiting for insurance to be paid. A line has got to be drawn in the sand."
Mr Cox, who runs Slater and Gordon's police compensation team, said the panel could be set up immediately and bring relief to a significant number of Illawarra clients.
"At a time when they are most acutely affected, they've broken down, they've been medically discharged and should be trying to get well, these people are confronted with this ridiculous insurance process."
Mr Cox also called on the NSW government to set clear guidelines for future TPD claims, including deadlines for case finalisation.
If the deadlines were breached, claims should be deemed accepted by the insurance company, he said.
Mr Cox said the "use of persistent and aggressive surveillance" by insurance companies added further stress to sick police officers.
"Not a single police officer argues against insurers being able to investigate a claim.
"They understand; most of them are investigators themselves," Mr Cox said.
"But what they do object to, is the delays and the persistent and aggressive surveillance.
"Most of my clients have done surveillance at one time or another, so to find themselves on the other side of the camera, and constantly over long periods of time, is a very traumatic thing," he said.
"What does surveillance of a person with psychological injury show you? You can't see what's going on inside someone's head.
"I've spent a lot of time watching video surveillance of sad looking police officers, there is no joy there I can tell you.
"I have an investigator's report where they took a snapshot of a client from side on, and draw an arrow pointing to the face saying that the claimant appears to be smiling.
"How do you respond to that? What are they suggesting? That if you have TPD you can't smile? There is a level of ridiculousness."
Mr Cox is also calling on the government to take an early intervention approach and encourage a shift in culture in the NSW Police Force.
"We need to stop the next generation of police from developing post-traumatic stress disorder and certainly from having to confront current insurance problems," he said.
"At the moment there is a stigma about mental illness in the police which stops people putting up their hand and saying 'I have nightmares, flashbacks, I may need to get some treatment'."
The overwhelming majority of Mr Cox's clients believe their careers would have been affected had they confessed.
"I recommend police put education processes in place and it starts with trainees who are joining," Mr Cox said.
"Police know when they are joining the job they are going to see terrible things. What they don't know however, is that they're going to be exposed to psychological illnesses that will likely affect them for the rest of their life."
Minister for Police and Emergency Services Stuart Ayres said MetLife had been replaced as the insurer for the NSW Police Force.
"My focus is on helping injured police return to work and supporting those whose injuries prevent them from returning to work," Mr Ayres told the Mercury.
The government had invested $15 million in welfare-focused programs for police officers and there were now more than 79 activities and initiatives in place, he said.
Mr Cox said the new initiatives weren't effective.
"My clients' overwhelming advice is that most of these processes do not work. The proof is in the pudding," he said.
"I'm not seeing a slowdown of clients.
"If these things were really working that's what we would be seeing."
Mr Cox urged politicians and the community to get behind the "wonderful people" who dedicate their lives to protecting them.
"They go to work doing a job most of us wouldn't do.
"They're not well paid, they are exposed to potential life-threatening situations every day and then when they get ill we kick them in the pants and basically leave them to their own devices," he said.
"From a legal and justice point of view that's just outrageous. That's why it's so easy to act for them, it's an honour."
A MetLife spokeswoman told the Mercury the company "understood the concerns of former police officers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress" and was working closely with all parties involved to resolve outstanding claims.
MetLife sought to act with integrity, professionalism and promptness in assessing all claims, the spokeswoman said.
"It is important to emphasise that these claims are extremely complex and require detailed assessment, often with advice from independent specialists.
"Given the complexity of claims and that the assessments can require consideration of circumstances which span over a decade, the assessment process can appear lengthy."
MetLife has to date paid more than $156 million in benefits to former NSW police officers.
Mr Cox fired back: "This is meaningless to the 268 people waiting".
Metlife said in the last 12 months it had "considerably boosted its dedicated assessment team and reduced the number of cases significantly".
The spokeswoman said false claims had a direct impact on the future costs and benefits for current serving officers, making it important to ensure claims were handled with rigour and diligence.
A TAL spokesman said the insurer recognised the complexity of some claims and worked collaboratively with all stakeholders to finalise claims as quickly as possible.
"Many of the claims are of a psychological nature and as part of the process to determine if the illness is permanent, TAL, where possible, also explores return to health and work options to help get people back on their feet," he said.
"TAL's primary goal is to service the needs of our partners and customers in accordance with the agreements we have with them and to meet our obligations to pay all valid financial protection claims."
Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.
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