The widow of a police officer who died from the effects of PTSD is still fighting with WorkSafe for widow’s pension benefits that Dalila Vroom contends she is legally entitled to.
What’s more, the Maple Ridge woman wants WorkSafe to change its polices, so when emergency responders die from the health effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, their health problems are assumed to be work related.
She has one last chance for an appeal.
Her husband Rob Vroom investigated gruesome fatal motor vehicle accidents, murders, suicides and other deaths for the Abbotsford Police Department. The work, which included photographing the bodies of deceased, started to haunt his dreams. After years, he started to suffer physical symptoms.
“On the way to work, when he got to the (Mission) bridge, his hands would shake. He couldn’t do it.”
He needed time off, and that resulted in battles with WorkSafe, who wanted to send him back to work, she said.
He was a highly specialized investigator and collision reconstructionist, but his case workers told him he would be re-trained to work at a convenience store or gas station, she alleges.
“The WorkSafe process was a total nightmare and battle for six years,” said Dalila. “His anxiety went through the roof.”
He turned inward. He stopped socializing, and couldn’t sleep. He would stay up watching television.
“He was seeing bloody bodies and body parts. He was smelling them. He couldn’t drive to Abbotsford,” she said.
Rob stopped eating. A big man of 6’4” and 250 pounds, he lost about 100 pounds.
“He was a walking skeleton.”
She cries as she recalls going to the Abbotsford Police, and begging them to retire Rob before work-related stress killed him.
They did, days after his 50th birthday, in December of 2017.
Six months later, he suffered a fatal heart attack.
That’s when Dalila’s own problems with WorkSafe began. She was the beneficiary in his pension, but when she filed the paperwork, WorkSafe said she didn’t qualify for it, despite provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act, because he didn’t die at work. She had to prove that his death was work related, and has been collecting evidence for this case for three years.
Dalila contends his heard was weakened by sudden weight loss, brought on by his declining mental health, and by his PTSD.
“Everybody knows extreme, prolonged stress can cause a heart attack,” she said. “Nobody in his family has a history of heart issues.”
She has been working with David Bradshaw, who is a WorkSafe advocate, and also helped Rob navigate his claims.
He said Rob was a good cop, predisposed to accept the decisions of those in authority, and unlikely to complain about any injury until it became unbearable.
The cop did confide in Bradshaw. For example, after having been at the scene of burn victims, the smell of a barbecue could trigger his PTSD. Vroom had to keep albums of victim photographs for use as evidence. When Vroom discussed his cases, and the effects on him, none of the psychologists were even willing to look at the photos, he told Bradshaw.
“This guy has to live with it, and they wouldn’t even look at it,” said Bradshaw. “I quite frankly don’t understand how people do the work that he did.”
“It’s an extremely tragic case, and I think WCB should have found a way to accept it.”
Bradshaw helps people fight WCB, but said it is a formidable task.
“They are not accountable for their harmful decisions. It’s left to the injured worker to fight for their rights. If you’re not unionized, you’re really in a pickle.”
WorkSafeBC expressed their sympathy to Dalila, and said Vroom’s claim was accepted for PTSD and depressive disorder as a result of the multiple traumas he experienced in the line of duty.
“All assessments and treatments would have been provided by highly trained professionals who would understand and be sensitive to the need not to further traumatize patients,” they said in an earlier email to The News.
Worksafe disagrees Vroom is entitled to Widows benefits, saying an extensive review of his claim and health history was conducted, with the expert advice of internal and external specialists.
“Mrs. Vroom was advised that she was not eligible for benefits as the evidence and advice did not support a conclusion that the PTSD, the depressive disorder, or other workplace factors caused his death.”
There was a review in May, and her claim was again denied, saying there is no clear link between his psychological issues and his heart problems.
She now gets a final chance – a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal. It is an independent appeal process. The stakes could hardly be higher.
“It’s going to save my house,” she said.
And, Vroom hopes a successful appeal might help save future police offers suffering PTSD from having to fight for work benefits, if their health fails.
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