HE WAS “in a combat zone for 32 years”, but after more than 18 months on unexplained sick leave Gary Chandler received just one call from the welfare department.
The former Creswick police officer attended up to 40 fatalities during his time as a police officer in Creswick. He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. He worked shifts by himself. One of his worst nights stands out clearly – at 5pm he was called to a suicide, at midnight he was called to another suicide. He knew both the teenagers well.
“The coroner said that was the first time in 30 years he’d heard of one person having to deal with two suicides,” Mr Chandler said.
When he returned to the empty police station, two teens were sitting on the step. They asked him if he was OK, and made him a cup of coffee. Mr Chandler has welcomed a call from the member for Western Victoria Jeff Bourman to the Minister for Veterans John Eren to extend military assistance to help police and emergency service workers experiencing PTSD.
“I call them my midnight visitors,” Mr Chandler said of the visions of people from fatal accidents that haunt his dreams.
“I would wake up in the night screaming.”
At his worst Mr Chandler couldn’t attend an event without being near the door.He can’t remember how he got onto it, but Mr Chandler enrolled in a course for returned military personnel that had been modified for and extended to police.
“It explains to you why you feel the way you do … I found it quite good,” Mr Chandler said. “It enabled me to be able to cope.”
Mr Chandler said counsellors helped him cope with his “midnight visitors”.
“They said ‘did you handle it the right way? Did you help these people?’, I said yes. They said ‘they are not coming back to haunt you, they are coming back to thank you’. “I still have my my midnight visitors. But I no longer wake up screaming.”
Mr Chandler said the military was miles ahead of emergency services organisations when it came to understanding how to treat PTSD. He is hopeful a new investigation into PTSD among members will lead to changes in the force.
A spokesman for the Minister of Veterans said past and present emergency service workers have access to range of services to help them cope with the impact of attending confronting events.
“The Andrews Labor Government knows these roles can be really difficult, so we're committed to giving the hard-working people that do them the support they need,” the spokesman said.
A review of mental health support services within Victoria Police is underway.
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