Retired police officers with PTSD have spoken out about a "long, lonely and retraumatising" process of leaving the organisation once earmarked for ill-health retirement.
There are over 100 officers who are not working, but are on full pay, awaiting a decision from the NI Policing Board on whether or not they can access ill-health retirement.
The Police Federation has also labelled the system "clunky, cumbersome and slow".
This story comes after UTV reported that serving officers with PTSD say they can't access mental health help within the organisation for months, and that many have considered suicide during this time.
Once officers receive a so-called red envelope from the PSNI, which will have medical advice saying it's unlikely the person can work as an officer again, they will be on full pay until a decision on their file is made.
Ill health retirement assessments had been paused because of other cases brought about by a judicial review case called McCloud.
A total of 54 ill health retirement assessments have been scheduled since they recommenced in August.
The main issue for those who've been through the process, like now retired officer David, is having to go through the same details about his PTSD.
"For me, it's been a process drawn out over two years now and it’s still being drawn out," he told UTV.
"It is me constantly having to justify or explain and regurgitate my trauma over and over again to different departments all the way up to the end," he said.
"And then when you go to the Policing Board, they bring you in and they rehash your trauma yet again."
Eddie served for decades and it took him 21 months to get out after realising he was unfit to carry out his duties due to mental ill-health.
"It is a very sad and lonely process when you suddenly decide to leave the job that you love doing because you're physically or mentally unwell.
"And for myself, it was a long process. It took me over 21 months from starting your health retirement to be medically retired, and that was a very long, lonely process."
Eddie wonders if he would have been able to return to work if he had been helped while going through struggles.
"It was only seven months after I had asked for the help, I finally got help. But by then it was too late. I couldn't cope. I didn't want to go back to wear my uniform again or be in work I couldn't face being in the police station.
"I was just broken and just needed to break free and then start dealing with the statements that were troubling me day in, day out.
"I'm processing that and trying to get my life back for my family."
David and Eddie believe that money used to pay full wages could be better used in recruiting new officers.
"They would be funding our pension from their pension pot, which is something that we've paid into. We paid I think at the moment it's 12.5% of our salary into our pensions," Eddie told UTV.
"But it would save them paying our salaries. And then the injury award is separate and that's paid for by the Policing Board through that budget in the Department of Justice."
David added: "If they speed up the process, they can get rid of those that are on the waiting list and replace them with new constables which they could probably hire more than they're losing with the wage structure."
The Policing Board said that there are significant budget issues and backlog problems following a judicial review.
"Following the outworkings of the Board’s statutory obligations relating to the recent McCloud judgment, ill health retirement (IHR) processing for serving officers has now fully resumed," a statement said.
"The impact of the McCloud remedy on this area of our work cannot be overstated, however the Board has endeavoured to keep PSNI and police staff associations up to date with progress and timelines throughout the process."
The spokesperson went on to say that although there is an ongoing impact from this, staff are "moving at pace".
"There are a number of resourcing and budgetary pressures which continue to impact the Board’s provision, however staff are moving at pace and prioritising serving officers who are awaiting IHR."
Our interviewees say that sometimes, it felt as though they were not believed regarding the extent of their psychological injuries.
'Mary', not her real name, is a sergeant and a psychologist.
"So the the concept that somebody might fake or overemphasise their psychological illness or injury symptoms is a bit of a misnomer, not only because it'd be completely counterproductive to do so, it would exacerbate and lengthen the process," she said.
"It could result in a lesser award if they were found to be not being completely truthful or accurate with their experiences, and generally, we find that people don't fake mental illness.
"It's not something that's easily or it's not a popular thing to do. The stigma and the isolation and the consequences of having a mental illness or disclosing that to friends and colleagues and family are much higher stakes than disclosing a physical illness or injury.
"We find a lot of the time officers and staff will mask their psychological symptoms with a physical illness or injury or perhaps quite naturally there'll be a combination of physical symptoms that accompany the psychological symptoms that they're experiencing."
The Police Federation has said the long delays are having an adverse effect on serving and non-serving officers,
PFNI Chair, Liam Kelly, said they have made "strong representations" to both the Occupational Welfare Unit and the Policing Board to resolve the "unacceptable backlogs" that are being experienced.
"In the first instance, we must remember that the men and women who have already been approved for ill health retirement should not be frustrated by an inability of the Policing Board to sign off on their cases," he said.
“The PSNI OHU is also encountering major challenges. The process is clunky, cumbersome and slow. There are too few medical professionals available and this is leading to unnecessary bureaucracy. Delays are re-traumatising officers and not only is that harmful to officers, but it’s also impacting on their families.
“The strapline that ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ rings hollow for many officers on the receiving end of delays. We will continue to make the case for a more streamlined and sympathetic approach which eliminates unacceptable delays and places the injured officer front and centre.”
The Policing Board has urged anyone with issues surrounding their case to contact them "in the usual manner".
In a statement, it said: "The board is committed to progressing applications as quickly as possible within the requirements of the current Police Pension and Injury Benefit Scheme as per the governing Regulations and would encourage any serving officer who is concerned about their IHR application to make contact in the usual manner for updates, which will be unique in each case."
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