PTSD: Statement from the NSW Police Minister

NSW Police Minister Stuart Ayres

Why are so many serving and retired NSW police officers committing suicide? Why aren’t statistics about police suicide being made available?
Police welfare, and particularly police suicide, are issues that are very important to this Government.
We have formed the Self-Harm Prevention Partnership, with members representing the NSW Police Force, the Police Association of NSW, the NSW Coroner, and Ministry for Police and Emergency Services.

The group is examining the causes of death, including suicide, of serving and former police officers. This work will help us get the fullest picture possible of the numbers affected, triggers for suicide and preventative strategies to be adopted.

Why isn’t more being done to provide care and assistance to individual officers who are suffering from PTSD as a result of their service?

The welfare of police officers remains one of my highest priorities.
I am committed to working with the NSW Police Force to improve police officer welfare and note the NSW Government has invested $15-million in welfare focused programs.
The NSW Police Force now has over 79 activities and initiatives in place to:
o promote wellbeing and prevent injury
o improve injury management
o and rehabilitate and redeploy injured officers.

Specific programs focussed on preventing and supporting officers with PTSD include:

o Mental Health Intervention Team
o 24 hour trauma support and a peer support program managed by a psychologist
o Beyond Blue mental health training
o statewide leadership training for supervisors on injury management, prevention and support
o regular programs such as RU OK Day and Mental Health Month
o monitoring traumatic incidents at a region, Local Area Command, rank and officer level
o implementation of recommendations from project evaluations, such as expanding Wellcheck
o mobile nursing services, physiotherapy services and follow up fitness programs
o new deployment guidelines and psychological job analysis tools for injured officers.

The Auditor General recently reviewed the death and disability scheme and the NSW Police Force’s welfare programs and found they are assisting officers to return to work and prevent injuries in the first place.

The Auditor General found more NSW police officers are now returning to work after being injured, with fewer medical discharges than in previous years.
Do you condone the use of private investigators and covert surveillance tactics by insurance companies to investigate former police officers with PTSD?
I am disappointed to hear that former officers are experiencing stress as a result of surveillance techniques being used by MetLife. I hope that with improved processes now agreed with MetLife, stresses experienced by former police officers can be minimised.

The NSW Police Force has advised me it has met with MetLife and the First State Superannuation Trustee Corporation to address the delay in assessing claims.
I am advised MetLife has engaged additional claims and legal staff to progress outstanding claims and is streamlining its decision making process.
I am advised these measures are making an impact on the number of outstanding claims. This is a pleasing outcome and one that I will be watching closely.
The NSW Police Force, MetLife and the First State Superannuation Trustee Corporation will continue to meet regularly to monitor progress and to address any further delays. I have asked the NSW Police Force to keep me informed of progress on a regular basis.

Are you aware that mentally ill officers are being driven to despair and giving up workers compensation and/or disability claims because of these tactics?

Again I am disappointed in the delays former officers are experiencing in their claims with MetLife.
I am keen to see former officers receive all of the benefits they are entitled to.
I understand the majority of former officers who have outstanding claims with MetLife received significant lump sums for partial and permanent disability when they were discharged from the NSW Police Force.

Injured former officers continue to be entitled to ongoing workers’ compensation benefits.
Former Detective Sergeant Ashley Bryant rang 000 and had his own suicide message recorded in order to highlight the fact your government is not doing enough to help police or their families deal with PTSD. What are you doing about it?

I understand that Ashley Bryant left behind a wife and three young children when he killed himself at a waterfall near Byron Bay in NSW on 16 December 2013. I understand that he directly attributed his death to PTSD and was very concerned that his wife and children be supported.

I understand that from this immense tragedy that Ashley’s wife Deborah is working hard to ensure that police officers are supported through PTSD.

This Government agrees that police welfare, including mental health, must be a priority and awareness of this issue must be encouraged and supported.

A recent and particularly useful program has been the speaking tour across NSW of Dr Kevin Gilmartin.

The NSW Police Force and the Police Association have jointly sponsored Dr Gilmartin’s presentation on “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement”. Dr Gilmartin is an international expert uniquely qualified to present on emotional survival for law enforcement. As well as holding a Ph.D in clinical psychology he was a career deputy sheriff in the United States for over 20 years.

Dr Gilmartin’s program was available to all officers with sessions held in metropolitan and rural and regional locations. Dr Gilmartin’s presentation included support material and provides officers with practical steps they can take to remain resilient.

In 2014, 15 training sessions will be delivered by Beyond Blue to employees. Beyond Blue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma.

The NSW Police Force also participates in organisational promotion of mental health issues. For example participating in regular programs such as RU OK Day and Mental Health Month. Also there are Police Monthly articles on mental health, screen savers, intranet information, and conference speakers.

Why aren’t officers who suicide due to PTSD brought on by their years of service in the force, recognised on the police honour roll?

Police officers who have suicided due to PTSD should be recognised. However the criteria for listing police officers on the NSW Honour Roll are the same as for the National Wall of Remembrance. It excludes officers who did not die as a direct result of their duties, including suicides.

The NSWPF is however exploring a suitable memorial to acknowledge officers who die in other ways.

Sunday Night also received the following responses, after filming, in response to our story on PTSD:

State Authority Super: STC is the trustee for the superannuation schemes which provide for members who joined the police force prior to 20 December 1992. As such, only a small portion of the NSW Police Force are members of our schemes.

STC cannot comment on individual member cases.

Of our just over 6,550 NSW Police Force pension members almost 70% are currently receiving a ‘hurt on duty’ pension which is a fortnightly pension that eventuates when a Police Officer is injured while fulfilling his duties.

Our processes for dealing with claims are fair and the assessment of a claim from a member is based on the individual merits of each case. We are mindful of the issues relating to injured members and work to ensure their claims are dealt with as expeditiously as possible. When dealing with injuries, assessment processes can be complex and STC acts transparently and thoroughly to ensure the best outcome for all members of the schemes.

From MetLife: PTSD is a serious and complex issue and MetLife understands the concerns of former Police officers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress and is working closely with all parties involved to resolve outstanding claims.

As one of the world’s largest life insurance companies with nearly 150 years of history, MetLife seeks to act with integrity, professionalism and promptness in assessing all claims.

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.

Some key facts about this situation are:
Ø MetLife has to date paid over $156 million in benefits to former NSW Police Officers;
Ø MetLife has in the last 12 months considerably boosted our dedicated assessment team and reduced the number of cases significantly;
Ø False claims can have a direct impact on the future costs and benefits for current serving officers and consequently it is important to ensure claims are handled with rigor and diligence.

We continue to work directly with the Police Commissioner and his team, our superannuation fund partner, reinsurers and other specialist parties to ensure that all genuine claims are assessed and paid as soon as possible.

The following titles are by officers featured in our story:
Allan Sparkes: ‘The Cost of Bravery
Esther McKay: True Stories from the Life of a Country Crime Scene Cop
Jeff Garland: Split Second Story
Belinda Neil: Under Siege

If you are struggling with depression or PTSD click here to visit Lifeline or call 131114


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