Families speak about military loved ones lost and how we failed them.
Ruth Lamperd, Herald Sun August 13, 2016 – — with Ashley Argoon [email protected]
A SHAMEFUL number of Aussie soldiers return from war zones depressed, anxious, in despair but unable to find help.
Grieving families of war veterans who have taken their own lives say their loved ones might still be alive today if they’d received adequate support from authorities.
Thirteen families of service men and veterans have bravely spoken out to highlight the plight of military men and women at risk.
Their call for more support comes as a Sunday Herald Sun investigation reveals 41 military personnel and veterans died this year from suicide, the same as the number of Australians who were killed in Afghanistan during 13 years of war.
Each family which agreed to be part of this special report lost their sons, husbands or fathers in the past two years.
They ranged in age from 21 to 57. Most of them were in their 20s and 30s when they died.
Almost all had been deployed to overseas operations, including Iraq, East Timor, Afghanistan or served on navy ships involved in border patrol.
The concerns were backed by former Chief of Army and Soldier On chairman Peter Leahy, who said the government needed to “step up and own the problem”.
“The number of suicides and the incidence of despair, depression and broken lives among our veteran community is a national shame,” Retired Lieutenant General Leahy said.
“Before we lose any more lives we need action and we need it now. It is time to stop talking about the problem,” .
The investigation has found:
FAMILIES are forced to look after sick and suicidal veterans with no offer of help or training from the defence force.
THE system set up to help injured veterans after they leave service — administered by the Department of Veteran Affairs — was too complicated, legalistic and slow.
SOME veterans waited four years or more to finally receive legitimate entitlements from the DVA because an “insurance company” mentality meant they fought veterans’ claims unnecessarily and lost their documents.
THE GPs of veterans who leave or are discharged from military service are not automatically forwarded mental health records.
SERVICE people injured at work and medically discharged from the ADF have to prove their service-related injury to the DVA when seeking compensation or pensions later.
CHARITY groups are scrambling to help fill the welfare void, with almost 3500 listing veterans as beneficiaries — 519 of which have them as sole beneficiaries.
PARENTS of school leavers are calling some veteran groups asking them to encourage their children not to enlist.
ONLINE registers run by veteran volunteers must rely on social media and families and friends reporting the suicide deaths. They believe the true numbers are likely to be much higher, but there are no official figures available.
AT LEAST 300 veterans who wrote despairing social media messages known as “last posts” were doorknocked by veteran volunteers around the country in the past year.
The Sunday Herald Sun learned of one case in which a mentally ill 21-year-old soldier, based in Darwin, suiciding two weeks after the suicide death of a female colleague.
Private Daniel Garforth’s mother, Nikki Jamieson, said her son was on guard duty when he received a call from a friend of the suicidal soldier, warning of her state of mind.
“He alerted his seniors but felt like his concerns were brushed off. The next morning the soldier had died and Daniel felt like he’d let her down,” Ms Jamieson said. Two weeks later Daniel died from suicide.
Some families have pleaded for mandatory and regular psychological testing for returned and discharged veterans for at least five years after their final deployment.
They also called for the ADF to provide supporting family members with in-depth training so they could recognise PTSD and mental illness and know how to help.
Bonny Perry, widow of RAAF Flight Sergeant Andrew Perry, who took his own life in December, said families were desperate for help caring for mentally injured service people. Her husband died after eight attempted suicides in two years.
“Families need support. I got none. No one contacted me. Not once,” Mrs Perry said.
She said her husband, nicknamed “Mung”, was strong, funny and highly respected by his colleagues. At his funeral, one senior RAAF officer said: “If it can happen to Mung, it can happen to anybody.”
Jasmine Carmel, mother of Jarrad Brown, a soldier who returned from deployment in Afghanistan, who died from suicide last year, said it was important for servicemen and women psychologically wounded from their service to reach out.
“The veteran community is a black spot … and not enough is being done to fix it,” Ms Carmel said.
“I consider my son a casualty of war. They trained him, he served his country and he was given back to us broken.”
Lauren Ashby, wife of Sergeant John Ashby, a veteran of East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, said the military let her husband down because of its lack of support for his PTSD. He suicided in October 2014.
When he was discharged, the breadth of his service meant he fell across three complicated DVA entitlement Acts,
“It took such an enormous effort to have his claims accepted. And I’m trained in administration so I can’t imagine how hard it would be for others,” Mrs Ashby said.
Private Nathan Roberts’s widow, Trisha, said her husband was not given adequate medical attention despite repeated attempts at suicide. He died three months ago.
“If there was more support and attention, I believe Nathan would still be alive today, ” Mrs Roberts said.
The investigation uncovered a lack of support for soldiers who left the defence force and could not fit back into civilian life.
Former combat troops and special forces — highly trained in war and weaponry — were considered at greatest risk of falling through the job cracks once they left the forces. That exposed them to greater risk of mental illness and suicide.
“Defence needs to ensure that when they leave they have adequate training and qualifications to make it in the civilian world. This isn’t happening,” said Senator Jacqui Lambie.
Former army medic Talissa Papamau, who now administers the Modern Soldier Facebook page, said reform in education and management of returned soldiers was needed urgently.
“Without this reform PTS is an aggressive and deadly condition as evidenced by these preventable deaths. The time has come to focus on solutions and to invest in system changes,” Ms Papamau said.
Defence spokesman Colonel Nicole Sadler said it was well known that there were risks associated with military service. The Defence Force’s suicide prevention program was part of a broader health and wellbeing effort to look after its personnel.
“This includes how we select, prepare and support them through all stages of their career and their transition out,” Colonel Sadler said.
“ We are always looking for ways to prevent and reduce those (suicide) numbers.”
DVA spokeperson Dr Stephanie Hodson said the DVA, defence and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare were conducting research to establish robust figures of suicide prevalence in the serving and ex-serving communities.
“We will do anything we can to prevent any suicide that we possibly can,’ Dr Hodson said.