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Victorian youth justice officers working with young offenders are just as vulnerable to psychological injuries as first responders, a prominent Bendigo lawyer warns.

Slater and Gordon Associate Jennifer Lay said the majority of claims she continues to see are related to mental health conditions, mostly impacting prison officers and emergency services workers who have experienced trauma on the job.

The Workers’ Compensation lawyer is investigating claims on behalf of workers who worked through the riots at Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre in 2017.

“Many of the youth justice, emergency workers and first line responders I work with are only just getting the support they need after working for most of their lives without accessing psychological services after witnessing traumatic events in their day to day working lives,” Ms Lay said.

“For many, the trauma they experience has an accumulative effect and it can take time to diagnose mental injuries.

“One client of mine who worked at Malmsbury for more than 15 years has not been able to return to work due to his psychological state and has been referred to join an intensive outpatient PTSD program.

“Unfortunately his claim was denied and he was not in a position to pay to complete the program. Under the State Government’s new mental health pilot scheme, it potentially would have been easier for him to access services.”

Ms Lay said it was encouraging to see the State Government’s long-term commitment to provide mental health funding would also be available to corrections and youth justice officers to access proper services too.

“The second stage of the pilot which began in July includes CFA, SES staff and volunteers, forest firefighters, public sector nurses and midwives, MFB, ESTA, child protection, corrections and youth justice staff,” Ms Lay said.

“It’s good to see that more is being done for youth justice officers who work very hard to support the rehabilitation of young offenders.

“We hear less about what they go through, in comparison to other workers but they are in great need of GP visits, medication and visits to psychologists and psychiatrists too.”

Ms Lay said the State Government’s 12-month pilot scheme would enable emergency workers and volunteers who lodge a claim to be compensated for medical expenses while the claim is being assessed.

“Right now, workers have until their claim has been assessed before they can access financial support to cover the cost so many people don’t access the services until months or years later and at times, it’s too late,” she said.

“Under the pilot, services will be covered through the relevant compensation scheme, such as WorkCover, once a claim is approved, and if rejected, expenses will be covered for 13 weeks.”

Ms Lay has been awarded the 2019 Bendigo Business Excellence Awards Young and Professional Award. Ms Lay is based in Bendigo but represents workers in the Ballarat, Heathcote, Echuca, Castlemaine, Macedon Ranges and Shepparton areas.

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