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Steps to ease trauma: Victorians open hearts, wallets to help ex-police with mental health issues

Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and Police Association Secretary Wayne Gatt. Picture: Ian Currie. Courtesy: Herald Sun

Victoris’s top cop and the police union boss have raised almost $200,000 for struggling former officers without putting either of their flat feet forward.

Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt plan to walk 1000km to raise money to help the thousands of former officers with mental health problems.

They don’t start their Head to Head trek across the state until October 1 — but Victorians and businesses are already digging deep, thanks to publicity about their marathon.

By Friday last week, just 12 days after the Herald Sun revealed the plan, Sgt Gatt and Mr Ashton had received donations of $187,536, including a large sum from McDonald’s.

Mercedes-Benz and BankVic have donated resources and Jayco has provided six ­recreational vehicles for Mr Ashton and Sgt Gatt and their support crews to use on the 23-day hike — two of which will be set up as hi-tech mobile offices so both men can keep working as well as walking.

Mr Ashton will set off from Mallacoota on the same day as Sgt Gatt leaves from Mildura and the footsore pair plan to meet in the middle at Wangaratta on October 23.

They hope to raise at least $500,000 to give to the Retired Peer Support Officer program, which is run voluntarily by about 60 former police officers.

“Wayne and I have been overwhelmed by the support that has flooded in over the past fortnight,” Mr Ashton told the Herald Sun.

“We have had individual members of the community chipping in up to $5000 each, which is just extraordinary.

“Many donations have come with heartfelt messages from mothers, fathers and retired officers themselves.

“One donation was made by a woman who is both a mother and a wife of police ­officers. Another was from the social club of our major events unit.

“Many donations have been from people with no specific connection to the force at all; it seems to have really struck a chord with the community.

“We are hoping to keep up the momentum and reach our $500,000 target.

“We already have a lot of support services in place for employees, including our mental health and wellbeing phone app, a 24/7 welfare hotline and our early intervention safe-t-net program that tracks our employees’ exposure to trauma over time.

“We are working hard to expand the reach of our welfare and psychology services to encompass the broader policing family, including partners, children and former employees.”

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