After 23 years, the municipality of Emmen now recognizes the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) suffered by former firefighter Ruud Lohues (63) as an occupational disease. This opens the way for compensation for all the damages he suffered as a result of his illness. Sakhan Emin reacts with relief. “23 years of fighting has paid off. Yeah man, this makes me so happy. This is what I’ve always been waiting for.”
Lohuis receives the good news in his campervan in Portugal, where he is in a state of “hibernation.” The Emmen municipality’s decision seems like “liberation” to him. “The battle is finally over. Now they have to do their best,” he says, referring to negotiations over compensation that are yet to come.
“But I achieved everything I wanted, and honestly, I wasn’t expecting this anymore, but I was definitely hoping for it,” Lohuis says. This hope will be particularly heightened if he succeeds this summer in proceedings before the highest court for civil servants, the Central Court of Appeal. He determines that Emmen is actually responsible for Lohuis’ psychological complaints. This court also concluded that there was no aftercare. “The truth has finally come to light,” Lohuis said optimistically at the time, after more than twenty years of struggle.
Emmenaar was a fire guard and diver for the Emmen fire team between 1982 and 1993. During that period he had to deal with about 25 serious incidents and it was not without consequences. Lohuis has serious problems sleeping, suffers from outbursts of anger and experiences reliving fears. He tries to draw his managers’ attention to his problems, but finds no response. “I shouldn’t complain and just get to work. Because it was part of our job.”
Because of his “unruly behavior”, Lohuis loses his job, his family, and most of his circle of friends. In 2014, a psychiatrist from GGZ Emmen finally made a clear diagnosis: the man suffers from late-onset PTSD, the result of his traumatic experiences while working in the fire brigade. The resident of Amin enters into the treatment process. He also holds the municipality responsible for all material and moral damages he suffered as a result of his illness. But Emmen does not want to know any responsibility. Lohuis opposes this and remains a fighter despite repeated rejection.
This summer, the former firefighter will be at the Central Board of Appeals’ side. He believes that as a firefighter Lohuis had to deal with “excessive working conditions” and that it makes perfect sense for it not to affect him. Emmen also failed the aftercare process. This was a big slap on the wrist for the municipality.
Emin could have appealed against the Civil Servants Court’s decision, but ultimately did not do so. The mayor and municipal secretary informed in a letter to Lohuis’s lawyer Ferry van de Nadort that “they now admit liability due to Lohuis’ occupational disease”, and “that the request for compensation will be discussed further”. The letter is on behalf of the mayor and members of the local council.
It also states that the municipality of Emmen bears no burden of proving the “adequate aftercare” for Lohuis, which it has demanded so far in the proceedings. The Central Court of Appeal wants to see evidence of that. But according to Emin, this is not possible. “It concerns a situation that has been in existence for so long that little or no relevant information can no longer be found. This means that we no longer have the opportunity to prove that the duty of care was fulfilled at that time.” Partly for this reason, Emmen decided to admit liability.
Reverse RTV Drenthe Emmen declines further substantive comment on the former firefighter’s case. “We do not make any statements regarding personnel matters, not even if it concerns a former employee,” spokesman Martin de Bruin said on behalf of the mayor.
Lawyer Van de Nadort will now continue with Emin in the battle over compensation. The lawyer cannot and will not say anything about the possible amount of damages. He hopes to be able to reach an agreement with the municipality “quickly and effectively.” “We want compensation for everything that happened to Ruud, and we hope that now everything will be done faster,” says Van de Naadort.
It remains to be seen whether the two parties will actually reach an agreement quickly. In 1995, agreements were reached regarding the removal of Rod Lohuis as municipal administrator, but according to the former firefighter, “these agreements were not fully fulfilled.” He will also no longer be able to access the municipal system to obtain his salary vouchers. This turned out to be a drawback.
“We still have to fully list the financial damages. To do that, Rod’s financial management must be complete, including previous pay slips. So we first need to get all the information so we can then arrive at a well-proven damage amount.”, Van de Naadort concludes.
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