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BY Jessica Cuthbert 
Setting out to expose the trauma of policing and restore the honour and dignity of medically retired police officers, the Medically Retired Western Australian Police Officers Association (MRWAPOA) achieved that goal and a whole lot more. 
What had started out at as an anonymous online chat group in 2008, a place for officers who had been medically retired from the WA Police Force with either physical or psychological injuries, soon turned into a group of dedicated people who “changed the course of history” for current and future serving police officers.
In time, the group progressed from online networking to physical meetings and catch ups. 
In May 2012, three former police officers who had been medically retired gave verbal evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating the toll of trauma on emergency service workers.
Their brave actions earned them something they had not received since leaving the WA Police Force - an apology from the Parliament for how they had been treated.
In giving their evidence, David Matthews, David Nelson and Dave Bentley also revealed the many other medically retired police officers who were suffering physical and psychological injuries, years after being discharged from the organisation with little or no after service support. 
Since making their stories known and lifting the lid on their own personal trauma, more retired officers began seeking the group out and in 2013 the Medically Retired Western Australian Police Officers Association was officially incorporated.
Member and Past President Dave Bentley, who medically retired from the WA Police Force in 2009, told Police News his trauma was psychological and cumulative over his 35-year career in major crash investigation. 
The job took its toll and he struggled with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Policing is one of, if not, the most dangerous occupation and not only are we subject to scrutiny from the public, media and politicians but we are everybody’s kicking bags,” Dave said. 
“I joined at the age of 18 as a cadet, I had a passion for wanting to help people and I am quite attached to people when I get involved in trying to help them." 
“That’s the reason why I broke. Often you can’t and won’t bring your work home, you carry your experiences around and things you’ve seen and eventually it erodes away at your own self and your emotions shut down. You become isolated from your family and everybody else; the job changes you.” 
In 2007, Dave took sick leave. He had reached breaking point and had suffered a psychological breakdown. 
During this time he was not contacted, visited or checked on.
Soon after, he was pointed in the direction of the anonymous online chat with other police officers who were medically retired. 
“It was understandable as to why these officers were talking anonymously,” he said. 
“Being discharged under Section 8 took the last remaining dignity we had left, we had already felt like the Agency betrayed us as they weren’t looking after us.
“Soon the online chatting became physical gatherings and becoming a part of it was the best thing I ever did.” 
Dave said giving evidence of the devastating effects of psychological injuries, was a turning point in his road to recovery. 
 He recognised that the people who go out each day putting their lives on the line to protect the community were not getting looked after and it left him and many others horrified. 
After making their voices heard, the Association began lobbying for change. 
They offered support, did their research and soon became a voice for all medically retired police officers. 
“We thought we were unloved and unwanted – even by our own colleagues and we needed to change that,” Dave said. 
“Before that first apology, no one had said sorry to us for the abysmal way we had been treated after what we had done for the community. The apology stunned us at first but then we realised this is what we needed, we needed that apology and recognition that we had been treated badly.” 
Dave became the President of the Association in 2013 and worked with the committee and membership to draw up a log of claims. 
Their main goal, which in time became their main accomplishment, was changing Section 8 of the Police Act, a broke system according to Dave which saw medically retired police officers discharged under the same section used to remove officers associated with misconduct or impropriety.
“We wanted an honourable discharge to redeem our honour and dignity. When you swear and take an oath to obey and uphold the law, your honour and dignity is your badge and to have that stripped away is disrespectful. 
“I felt I had wasted 35 years of my life and I felt I was not worth anything, that I would be better off dead.” 
Changes to Section 8 of the Police Act passed through parliament in August this year. 
 “To be grouped with corrupt officers when you have done nothing wrong, is truly devastating. To have this changed, it meant police officers could walk away with their head held high and with dignity,” Dave said. 
“When this was accomplished I felt absolute elation, we had changed the section that was destroying people.” 
Another priority for the Association was addressing mental health. 
Dave started talking to groups of police officers and became a mental health first aid trainer where he spent two years working in capability development.
 “Unfortunately, the classes stopped and it needs to be resurrected, it’s one of the most important things police need to be speaking about,” he said. 
In the past six years the MRWAPOA has achieved their initial goals and more, including the creation of the WA Police Star. 
 “Focusing on these goals and helping these officers has brought my health and sanity back.” 
Although serving the community for 35 years, Dave said he feels as though he has achieved more in his six years as the President of the MRWAPOA. 
 “For six years, the Association has been my life and it probably will be until I die. This Association has been vital to the mental health and welfare of these retired officers.  
“The approach to mental health has changed. When I first joined, it wasn’t talked about and it didn’t exist. People covered it up and it broke them but now it’s talked about and it is very real. 
“As hard as it is to think about, I’m sure that without the Association, some members would be dead. They would have taken their lives as they were in such a dark place but having someone to talk to and someone who understands them has given them a light at the end of the tunnel. 
“The WA Police Union does a remarkable job taking care of their serving members, but I think it’s important the Association is there.”
In October this year, Dave stepped down as President to focus on his own mental health, although he remains an active member of the Association. 
WAPU acknowledged Dave’s contribution as MRWAPOA President by presenting him with a framed copy of the Police Amendment (Medical Retirement) Bill 2019 at the 83rd Police Union Annual Conference. 
The Association elected a new committee at their Annual General Meeting in October led by President Benjamin Doman, Vice President Geoff Milton, Treasurer Wendy Kennedy, Public Affairs Director Joe Saw and Secretary MarkGlenn Harmony.  
For more information visit http://mrwapoa.org.au/
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