An independent panel should be set up immediately to finalise more than 260 outstanding police compensation claims before another life is lost to suicide, a leading lawyer says.
"The circumstances that these former police officers find themselves in needs to be addressed as quickly as possible and we cannot as a society simply accept the suicide of one more former police officer waiting for justice," said John Cox, leader of Slater and Gordon's police compensation team.
"These 268 people are the most vulnerable and moving quickly to address these claims will decrease the likelihood of further suicides."
"Complaints I hear from my clients often come down to two issues, the extraordinary delays and the unfair, disgraceful conduct of MetLife."
Mr Cox said the majority of claimants, many from the Illawarra region, had been waiting for more than two years for a decision, while some had been waiting up to four years.
"The complaints about the process I hear from my clients often come down to two issues, the extraordinary delays and the unfair, disgraceful conduct of MetLife," he said.
"By getting a determination of their claim, whether accepted or declined, at the very least the claimant has a sense that the process is moving and not stagnating as appears to be the case currently."
The existing TPD police superannuation scheme involves the trustee, First State Super Corporation, who is contracted with the insurer MetLife to provide benefits for police injured in the line of duty.
The officers must satisfy a definition that examines their ability to gain employment consistent with their experience, qualifications and training.
Frontline police eligible to join the scheme pay premiums to the trustee, which is ultimately paid to the insurer.
Mr Cox believes one of the reasons for the breakdown in the scheme is that MetLife's contract was not extended, so the insurer is now left with a tail of claims to pay with no new income coming in from this source, Mr Cox said.
The Slater and Gordon proposal borrows from an internal dispute resolution process already in place between the trustee and MetLife known as the Claims Review Committee (CRC).
The existing committee is convened when the insurer and trustee are in dispute, usually when MetLife declines a claim that the trustee believes should be paid.
Mr Cox said a permanent CRC panel should be established to make determinations on each outstanding claim, starting from the claims with the longest delays.
"The panel, if established, would only take approximately six months to determine the existing backlog of Metlife claims," Mr Cox said.
The committee needed to be chaired by independent, experienced insurance experts ideally drawn from the ranks of Queen's Counsel or senior counsel of the NSW Bar.
"The committee should be completely transparent and provide the claimant the opportunity to give written and verbal submissions and be present for the deliberations and decision making process with strict time limitations in respect of the determination of the claim," Mr Cox said.
Under the current process the claimant can make submissions but the determinations and reasons remain secret.
"The trustee and insurer would be bound by the decisions and the former police officer claimant would have the opportunity to continue with legal proceedings and retain the right to challenge the decision or seek a review based on new evidence if the circumstances arose."
Mr Cox said there were benefits for all stakeholders.
"Firstly, those former police officers get what many have been waiting years for, a determination, a decision and I would expect from my experience that most of these claims would be accepted."
There were also benefits for Metlife. "Apart from the ongoing poor public relations flowing from this story, it can resolve these claims and move on to other areas of insurance," he said.
The Mercury has sought Police Minister Stuart Ayres' response to the Slater and Gordon proposal. A spokeswoman said the Minister was on leave and therefore could not comment.
A Mercury poll found 87 per cent of reader participants supported the establishment on an independent panel.
For help and counselling: Lifeline 131114; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 65946