Politician’s lack of action is damning veterans

28 Jan 2016

This is an Article written by Graham Richardson (Political Columnist) and printed in The Australian 29 January 2016
graham richardson

I have no idea as to who wrote the immortal words “old soldiers never die, they just fade away” but he or she got it half-right and half-wrong. While spending a month in Townsville over Christmas, it wasn’t only the dastardly deeds of Clive Palmer at the local nickel refinery¬ that piqued my interest.

Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill introduced me to a group of leather-clad, tattooed, motorcycle club members. This was not a group set up to run criminal enterprises. Rather, it was an attempt by some army veterans to give structure and purpose to the lives of some of their mates who were struggling to survive.

These blokes have a clubhouse in suburban Townsville and they had a party one night. About 100 people were in attendance. There was a barbecue and a live band. One thing struck me immediately about the function — everyone was in a good mood. No matter how much grog was being consumed, there were no fights or argu¬ments.
What was so impressive about this was the fact that too many of those assembled had real troubles in their personal lives with alcohol abuse and violence. They were coming together with their mates, the people who understood them and accepted their failings and foibles. When you hear some of their stories you come to realise why they feel abandoned, forgotten and look so forlorn.

A few days after the party I sat down with a few of the Diggers Club members and listened to their stories.
One bloke — who had tried serious¬ self-harm on too many occasions¬, had significant difficulty with alcohol and was leading a pretty solitary existence — recounted¬ his attempt to gain a Totally and Permanently Incap¬acitated Gold Card. What follows is a damning example of callous, sloppy bureaucratic bungling.
Before being granted the card, with all of its attendant pension and benefits, this man was told he had to complete a rehabilitation program. During April, May and June of 2012 he completed the program designated by the Departme¬nt of Veterans Affairs.
In December 2013, there was a hearing of this veteran’s application. There was, however, no record of his participation in or completion of the rehabilitation course. Either the company conducting the course had not submitted a report to the department or the department itself had received¬ and then lost the report in the bowels of a government body still using paper files and not putting reports on computer.
And here was I thinking I was the last of the Luddites, as I handwrite this column.
The application was knocked back on the grounds that the rehabilitation course had not been completed. You would be entitled to wonder why no one involved on the department’s side had the wit to ring the company conducting the course at the not-too-shabby sum of $13,000 a pop.
If that is not bad enough, the appeal against this decision was not heard until September 2014. It took 10 minutes and the original decision was set aside and allowed to “just fade away”. There have been too many suicides and too many lives busted wide open by this kind of treatment.

I want to finish off this column by printing in full a letter from one of the veterans I met in Townsville. It explains all that is wrong with the system far better and far more eloquently than I ever could.
I’m writing to you today in relation to our conversation we had in Townsville recently. I have served my country for near twenty years with multiple deployments from hearts and minds to front line. I, like so many of my peers, were lifetime soldiers — career oriented, very focused¬ on our task at hand, which meant our personal lives took a back seat on many occasions. That was Defence life.
I didn’t just wake up one morning and feel the way I do, it’s been going on for years, and like many others I abused alcohol to the point where friends and family were concerned for my health.
This was my escape from reality¬, heavily intoxicated in my own world. Not seeing how this was impacting others around me and at times unable to get out of bed, I continued to ready myself for the next deployment by trying to erase the last and just moving on. It was my closest friends who got me help and through a very low point in my life. After seeking professional advice and guidance, I informed my chain of command that I was diagnosed with PTSD, and that I would be taking medication to assist with my anger, anxiety, hyper vigilance and inability to sleep.
I was requested by my chain of command to get a second and third opinion with an assessment by a Defence Psychologist. I complied with the requests and all came back the same. One Defence Psychologist said this behaviour should have been “red flagged” years ago but apologised for “falling through the cracks”. To me they’re just words to a systematic problem within the Defence Force. These words didn’t give me any assistance or solution to the problem.
After 19 months of uncertainty with my career, it was over. Many Defence members refer to getting help as career suicide as you’re no longer an asset and now have become a burden. I’ve heard many individu¬als referred to in many terms and I knew I would be put into this category by my chain of command. This was extremely disheartening and I spiralled out of control with high anxiety and depress¬ion.
After getting assistance for these issues I’m gradually getting better, at least I’m six feet above. There are so many ex-service personal that are doing well, let’s not forget those that struggle daily.

On Richo on Sky News on Wednesday night I interviewed Stuart Robert, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I provided him with this material but I did not make this a political issue. Neither side of politics have distinguished themselves on the way they treat veterans so I don’t care about the politics, I care about results. Stuart¬ Robert has questions to answe¬r and so does Marise Payne.