Veteran soldier and former policeman wins PTSD battle against New Zealand Defence Force
As a soldier, he saw a helicopter explode with 16 people on board. At night he couldn't sleep for flashbacks of the sounds of deadly rocket attacks.
As a police officer, he saw a suicide victim hanging, and a murder victim disembowelled.
As a father, he saw his 5-year-old daughter's face mauled in a dog attack.
As a civilian, he survived a car crash that fractured his neck.
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But because his mental injuries were deemed the result of a series of events, rather than a single sudden one, the man, whose name is suppressed, was refused a claim for work-related mental injury cover.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), acting as an ACC-accredited employer, took the view that it did not cover "gradual process" injury.
That 2014 decision was upheld on review, and the veteran and his lawyer, John Miller, took the fight to Wellington District Court.
In a decision published on Wednesday, Judge Neil Maclean overturned the NZDF decision, and told the ex-soldier he was entitled to argue for legal costs.
Miller called it a landmark decision. "As the soldier said, it's bad enough going through all this depression and distress and PTSD, without actually being knocked back by the force you're trying to assist in fighting for your country, when you're not in a good place to fight it."
The NZDF declined to comment on Thursday.
The judgment catalogued the veteran's history of service, enlisting at 16 and going on to a 25-year military career, as well as a stint with police from 2003.
In his second Afghanistan tour in 2009, his base was subjected to fatal rocket attacks, including one impact just 80 metres from him, and he also witnessed the explosion of the military helicopter.
After returning home, he was diagnosed with delayed onset post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. In 2013 he began receiving therapy and went on sick leave.
His symptoms included hyper vigilance, alertness, startling easily, impaired sleeping, irritability, low mood, poor concentration, limited motivation, pleasure, enjoyment and energy.
The PTSD was attributed by his psychiatrist more to his Afghanistan duties than to police work.
ACC was party to the court challenge because the case centred on whether the NZDF interpreted its legislation correctly in declining cover.
ACC's submission backed the NZDF, saying the veteran's stressful experiences were separate events – some years apart – and not all involved work. So "in total they did not equate with the type of single, sudden traumatic 'event' envisaged [by the legislation]".
The judge questioned the interpretation, agreeing with Miller that being on duty in a "hostile, dangerous environment" did amount to a single incident and that he was entitled to cover because his Afghanistan tour caused him mental injury.
The case could set a precedent for veterans, as it allowed for a more "generous" interpretation of the legislation, Miller said.
Returned and Services and Association support services manager Mark Compain said pyschological wounding was a side-effect of military service that deserved recognition, saying assurance was needed that other veterans would not have to go through the same process.