ACC fight ‘ruined my life’
Former cop fights his demons and the system, writes Hamish McNeilly.
THE death of a baby nearly 40 years ago haunts Frank Van Der Eik to this day.
Back then, he was a 21-year-old police officer called to a cot death in Outram, Otago.
‘‘That job on its own has affected me more than anything else, because as a policeman you have to take the baby away,’’ he says.
That’s no small concession from the 59-year-old, whose 13-year police career was punctuated by traumatic events including the Abbotsford Slip, the Springbok Tour and the Aramoana massacre.
Those experiences left Van Der Eik a broken man, and he’s been in a prolonged battle with ACC for help to alleviate his posttraumatic stress syndrome.
His policing career started in 1978 with collaring criminals on the mean streets of Muldoon-era Wellington before he returned to his hometown of Dunedin.
‘‘I was a natural cop,’’ Van Der Eik said.
But after a decade on the beat he was a shadow of his former self; burnt-out from long hours and the neverending cycle of fatal car crashes and domestic violence. And then there was the shotgun pulled at his head, the meat cleaver wielding assailant, and having his neck slashed by a saw.
The result was ’’a complete breakdown’’.
‘‘I couldn’t get out of bed one morning, I couldn’t stop crying. I felt my whole life was destroyed.’’
In 1988 he checked into Dunedin’s Ashburn Hall where for two months he received help for his mental health, while police management tried to get him declared mentally unfit.
’’They just locked me out. I had passed my use-by date.’’
On the day of the Aramoana massacre in 1990 he heard Port Chalmers Sergeant Stewart Guthrie over the police radio, warning gunman David Gray to stop. Silence followed.
Sent to Waitati to set up a roadblock, he was shocked to hear his friend had been killed, along with 12 others.
Van Der Eik left police the following year without ever being offered counselling.
His initial claim for posttraumatic stress disorder, believed to be one of the first of its kind in New Zealand, was declined from the outset, and it took 18 months just to get a review hearing.
To help fund his legal battle he sold his South Canterbury home, and moved to Palmerston, Otago, this year.
ACC eventually granted weekly compensation. But Van Der Eik disputes the corporation’s calculations and a review was held on September 22, with a decision expected within 28 days.
Asked to respond to his claims of delays, denials and avoidance, a spokesman said ‘‘ACC staff do their best to work their hardest and I am sorry to hear that that is the client’s view’’.
Van Der Eik said his fight with ACC was unhealthy and something he did not want, ‘‘but they have forced me here’’.
‘‘This has ruined my life.’’
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