An Open Letter To The Minister For Veterans’ Affairs

An Open Letter to Senator the Honourable Michael Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Dear Senator Ronaldson,

On 12 November 2013 I sent both an email and a letter to you via your gazetted Ministerial Office contact details.  To date I have not received a reply nor have I received any acknowledgement that my correspondence was received by your office.  Although traditional mail does occasionally fail to arrive at its intended destination, an email with the correct recipient address does not.

My original letter to you was in regards to the comments made by your Department’s Mental Health Adviser, Doctor Stephanie Hodson, which were aired during a segment on Channel 7’s Today Tonight entitled Fighting A Mental War.  Dr Hodson’s comments were not only highly controversial, but also quite insulting to Australia’s Veterans.  To claim that a major part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs inability to provide timely support to Veterans with mental health issues was in part the fault of the Veterans themselves is nothing short of victim blaming.

Did I, like many others ask to be haunted and troubled by the traumatic experiences from our deployments?
No, we did not.

Did I ask for help from within the Australian Army?
Yes I did and on numerous occasions I was told to “harden the fuck up”.

Did I ask your Department for assistance?
Yes I did, but instead of the support that I was entitled to, I was forced to jump through hoops and make my way through a maze of red tape.

Like many Veterans, I found the system that is supposed to provide us assistance and avenues of support was, in reality, creating more roadblocks on the long journey to recovery.  Roadblocks that ultimately resulted in me turning my back on DVA and finding the help I so desperately required from my family and friends.  To be honest I couldn’t help but assume this was a deliberate ploy by DVA; make it as difficult as possible for Veterans to access support services and they will eventually give up; saving the Department a large sum of money.

Unfortunately many Veterans do not have the type of support from family and friends that I do, and when the world is at its darkest, some will take their own lives.  This year alone more than twenty returned servicepersons have committed suicide.  I must stress that this number reflects only those that are clear cut cases of suicide and not single-vehicle accidents and incidences of drowning while intoxicated.

I was extremely fortunate to attend Paul Barclay’s Boys Don’t Cry forum at the Australian War Memorial on the evening of Thursday 21 November 2013.  During this forum members of the panel discussed various issues regarding PTSD and depression with a focus on the Australian Defence Force and withdraw from Afghanistan.  It would have been highly beneficial for a member of your Department or staff to have attended in an official capacity in order to answer some questions regarding the level of support offered by DVA.

LTGEN Peter Leahy was a member of the panel and spoke about returned servicepersons accessing support from within the ADF and DVA.  While I wholeheartedly agree that the ADF is getting better and that the stigma associated with PTSD and depression is slowly dissipating.  I found LTGEN Leahy’s claims that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is learning from the mistakes of the past a complete and utter fallacy.

This was an opinion that I shared with the panel and audience during the question time at the completion of the forum.  For almost 25 minutes I spoke about my struggles with PTSD, the systematic failures of the ADF and DVA when I was trying to access support services and my fears for Australian Veterans in the future.

The Department of Veterans Affairs exists for the sole purpose to provide assistance to Australian Veterans, whether they have experienced overseas service or not.  This is a role that DVA seems to fail at more often than not.

Senator Ronaldson you are quoted on the ABC’s World of Today webpage from a report by Lexi Metherell from Tuesday 10 December 2013 as saying:

MICHAEL RONALDSON: We cannot repeat the mistakes of post-Vietnam, where this country let down those men who were doing no more and no less than serving the nation at the nation’s request.

Senator Ronaldson I implore you to open your eyes to the facts.  The mistakes of “post-Vietnam” were the mistakes from post-World War 2 which was the legacy from the mistakes made post-World War 1.

I am a third generation Soldier; my Grandfather served in World War 2 and was stalwart for Veteran’s advocacy his entire life, my Father served in Vietnam and dedicated 42 years as a fulltime Soldier; and I have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  These mistakes you speak of, the mistakes of the past are in fact the Ghosts of the Past that continue to haunt us to this very day.

I watched as my Grandfather’s legacy and honour left with him as he passed away in a geriatrics ward; a man of such strong resolution, he dedicated the entirety of his post-war life to the Returned and Services League and spent a record 35 years as the President of the Corrimal RSL Sub-Branch.  The Department of Veterans’ Affairs bureaucracy come to forefront when matters concerning his palliative health care and DVA Gold Card became an issue in his final days.

I have witnessed my Father’s transition to civilian and retired life; not an easy feat after spending almost half a century serving this great Nation.  I watched as a child, my Father’s struggles with his past service in Vietnam and later as his friends died prematurely from illness brought on by exposure to hazardous materials and suicide brought on by depression and PTSD; long ignored and compounded by DVA’s ineptness and unwillingness to support struggling Vietnam Veterans.

To listen to spokespersons from the Government, Department of Veterans’ Affairs and even yourself; the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, speak of not having history repeat itself is insulting.

I have several friends with their names on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial; these are men now forever young that I mourn the loss of everyday.  A heavy weight that I and many others carry on our shoulders as we will not let their sacrifice for the people of Australia and Afghanistan be in vain.  Every loss is felt deeply within the Australian Defence community even if it becomes a just a distant memory for most.

I fear with the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Middle East almost complete, the spotlight will dim and the ongoing fight for support and assistance we have earned will not be forthcoming.  Many Veterans spend months waiting to see specialists and have claims processed.  Coupled with PTSD, depression, anxiety and the blasé attitude of some DVA staff this is a catalyst for self destructive and suicidal behaviour.

The number of Veterans who have taken their own lives now surpasses the brave 42 whose names are on display in our Nation’s capital.

Many of these Veterans have continued to fight long after their war in the Middle East ended.  Like a battle with the enemy this too is a fight for survival; and without DVA accepting responsibility and acting on its mistakes this too will cost the lives of Australians that once donned the uniform of a Soldier, Sailor or Airman.

I care not for excuses and the ongoing blame game of previous Governments.  I care only for you the current Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to stand up, acknowledge the mistakes of the past and find a way to move forward for the better.  I ask you Senator Ronaldson, to engage with us, those Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen that have fought against the bureaucracy of a Government Department that has learnt nothing over the past 100 years.

As we prepare to remember and mark the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign; can you honestly say that today’s Veterans are receiving the appropriate level of support and assistance that our forefathers never got to experience; or like them will this fight become the legacy of my children when I am long gone from this world?

Respectfully yours,

Chad Dobbs
17 December 2013

This letter has been forwarded to Senator Ronaldson’s contact email address: officeoftheminister@dva.gov.au;
Tweeted to Senator Ronaldson’s Twitter page: @SenRonno;
Tweeted to DVA’s Twitter page: @DVAAus.

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…And The Beast Was Done

After 7 long months of fundraising and raising awareness for Soldier On, my fundraising page has closed and it’s time to just enjoy riding and enjoy some time with my Wife, family and friends during the Holiday season.

Just because I don’t have an active fundraising campaign running anymore doesn’t mean I won’t be raising awareness for Soldier On.  I still have a 3 hour cross-country race in 2013 and have already committed to several big races in early 2014 including the 100km Capital Punishment and The Mont 24 Hour.

At the end of the day, after the countless hours riding, training, fundraising, and banging the proverbial drum I am confident that I have helped raise the profile for Soldier On and the battle that young veterans like myself fight on a daily basis.

It is no secret that I ride to deal with PTSD and depression; but by being an ambassador for Soldier On, I have also developed more confidence in myself and found a voice that will speak on behalf of Australia’s young Veterans. Hopefully by putting myself out there I am encouraging other young Veterans to speak up and ask for help

SG020

Although Riding For Soldier On was a mostly solo effort on the bike there were a lot of people who helped me throughout the year

Thank you to the following:
SOLDIER ON for their support throughout this year especially John, Anna, Meredith, Dion and Tony for their amazing support & patience.

Luke & Dan from BEAST-WORX for running such amazing events and allowing me to be a big part of it.

My amazingly supportive mountain biking group THE BERM.  Special thanks to Nathaniel, Jason, Nigel & Chris, Ben, Roger, Steve K, Alyssa, Melissa C, Brett, Matt & Sam, Kris, Tony H, Sonja, Andy & Adam.

My family & friends especially my Wife for putting up with my many hours away from home & allowing me to spend obscene amounts of money on bikes!

And last but not least… The people who supported me & donated money to SOLDIER ON so that wounded veterans can get the support they so desperately need & deserve.

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Call Of The Beast 2013 Wrap Up

The Call of the Beast was my final Soldier On fundraising event for the year.  After 7 months of intense fundraising and raising awareness for Soldier On it was a relief to just be able to go into an event without any pressure.

Each time I got on a bike wearing my Soldier On jersey it was an opportunity for me to help raise the profile of Soldier On in the ACT, NSW, QLD and VIC.  As of 1 December 2013 I have ridden 5’169km while wearing my jersey and look forward to many more kilometres training in racing in it and the new design jersey and knicks combo that will be available very soon.

I was “asked” if I wanted to enter the Call of the Beast just prior to my Wedding in September.  Dan and Luke from Beast-Worx were keen to get me out for their new obstacle course race and I was extremely happy to take up their offer.

I will be quite upfront and state that apart from my normal riding routine I did absolutely no training for this event.  It’s no secret that due to long-term injuries I don’t run.  It’s not that I don’t like running it’s just that a combination of torn muscles, torn tendons and ligaments, dislocations, fractures and osteoarthritis means my dream (not entirely accurate) of running a marathon will never be realised.

So I kept riding and figured I would just cuff it on the day.  My preparation was quite similar to that of a mountain bike race.  Clothes for the event, hydration and nutrition organised, GPS and heart-rate monitor ready and clean clothes for after the race.  Once this was all packed in the back of the car I headed out to Caloola Farm to look at the course that had been set up for the 1200-odd participants.

When I arrived at the event centre I registered, donned my participant wrist band and headed off to watch the Last Beast Standing racers attacking the course.  Round 1 of the elite race was drawing to a close and these athletes had 4 more rounds ahead of them.  Watching these men and women smash down food and water before heading back out again was awe inspiring and made me quite content with the knowledge that I was doing the Fun Beast.

I set up my little spot near the Soldier On stand and chatted with Tony, Anna and Dion for most of the morning.  Volunteer Andy K seemed to be very excited about carrying a loudspeaker and I was dreading having to run up to his checkpoint later in my race.

As the start time for the first wave of the Fun Beast was getting closer, I got changed into my running gear: shorts, Skins shirt, Soldier On shirt, 2XU calf compression socks, water-suitable hiking shoes and my Garmin Forerunner.  I looked the part and headed down to the start line.  I watched as Beast-Worx Dan let the first wave go and then headed down to say hello before lining up with the the second wave.

Adam ‘Rocket’ Rolls, my Scott 25 Hour team-mate, was running in a team and as usual he was focused and ready to run.  The wave started and I slowly jogged off towards the first few obstacles.  I wasn’t taking this event seriously but can honestly say, even with my injury-induced limitations I was making pretty good time through the first part of the course.

The obstacles weren’t very difficult and I was able to scale, crawl through, jump over, roll under, climb up, balance on and run over everything without any assistance.  It was however extremely simple to spot the people with military experience.  Firstly there was the obvious technique in getting through the obstacles and secondly we were the few that stayed on top off walls lifting people up, pulled cargo nets tight, gave boosts, steadied people’s balance and more often than not gave advice on how to do things safely.

BOTB 13 114.:Waiting to scale the first wall (Photo by Canberra Times):.

The obstacles were spread out with a fair bit of running in between.  This was always advertised as an adventure race and not designed as a Tough Mudder knock-off like many of the new obstacle races.  Like the Battle of the Beasts this event’s main aim was to raise money for Soldier On; and with only two permanent staff and an army of volunteers it is commendable that a first time event was so amazing, challenging and fun.

By the time the 11km Fun Beast was over I had run 12.9km in 2hours 22mins.  Not the fastest time but a very fun event that I would definitely do again.

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BOTB 13 115.:Strava!:.

BOTB 13 112.:Just a tad dirty:.

BOTB 13 113.:As usual I kept my race plate (a sly reference to my Army days with the number):.

At the end of two big events I had raised $5’790 for Soldier On.  Thank you to everyone that donated and supported me through-out these past several months.

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