An Evening At The Australian War Memorial – Updated

ABC’s Big Ideas has released the Boys Don’t Cry program online for viewing.
The televised version is shorter by about 20 minutes and doesn’t include my speech at the end of the forum.  The online long version does.  I invite you to watch is however please be aware that some of the program is fairly confronting including what I have to say at the end.

Long version of the Boys Don’t Cry segment

Big Ideas Boys Don’t Cry segment

On Wednesday evening, 20 November 2013, I attended a panel discussion at the Australian War Memorial on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The event was hosted by journalist/writer Paul Barclay on behalf of ABC TV and Radio National.

On the panel were former Chief of Army LTGEN Peter Leahy; author and Beyond Blue ambassador Allan Sparkes; Beyond Blue board member Professor Brett McDermott; and the wife of a former British Royal Marine, Emily.

I was asked about attending the panel a few days earlier by my friend Jason.  Originally I didn’t want to attend as I honestly thought it may be a trigger for an anxiety episode; so I declined.  It wasn’t until the night before that I decided to go along and hopefully have a chance to speak to whoever was on the panel.  I had no idea who was participating in the discussion other than LTGEN Peter Leahy and hadn’t really thought about what was going to be discussed.

In the afternoon prior to the start of the forum, I rode from work up to the Australian War Memorial.  As is the norm, I was wearing my Soldier On jersey and happened upon new Soldier On team member Tony; who many moons ago was my Troop Commander when I served in Iraq.  Jason arrived next and soon we were joined by Anna, Meredith and Dion from Soldier On.  After I got changed into something more appropriate than skin tight lycra, we went into the BAE Systems Theatre.

After the introductions Paul started the discussion with some questions about PTSD in the military for LTGEN Leahy.  The conversation and questions started to flow freely within the panel with some very emotional stories being shared by Emily and Allan.  Prof McDermott gave some very interesting insights on PTSD for not only military personnel; but also for emergency service persons and of course their families.

I wasn’t the only veteran in the crowd; but I was the youngest.  There were a few Vietnam Veterans present, family members of veterans with PTSD and a few senior Defence officers that were skulking around the back pews in civilian attire.

As the discussion progressed LTGEN Leahy was asked some questions about support services available to veterans.  I have a lot of respect for this man; he was an exceptional Chief of Army and has done a lot to help veterans with his current position as Chairman for Soldier On.  But there is a distinct level of detachment from what a high ranking officer is told and what happens on the ground.

Some of his responses started to irk not only me, but a lot of the crowd listening to him.  There were more than a few audible scoffs at some comments about the Department of Veterans affairs doing their best to help all veterans.  One comment in particular drew a very audible “get fucked” from me.  The former Chief of Army said that when a Soldier asks for help, he or she will always receive it.  Paul mentioned the story of MAJGEN John Cantwell and LTGEN Leahy was in agreement.  Whilst MAJGEN Cantwell has done a lot to help break the stigma of PTSD in the ADF; it is also true that a very senior Officer is never going to be turned away when they ask for assistance.

Allan Sparkes shared his story of PTSD and depression from when he was a Police officer; and the ostracising that he experienced as a result.  His story was a very raw, no punches pulled recount of his darkest days and his termination from his employment without his knowledge.  His story was very reminiscent of many veterans from the Vietnam War up until today’s conflicts.

Emily’s story was one of amazing courage from both her and her husband Adrian.  She spoke of her time in the United Kingdom when Adrian returned from deployment in Afghanistan a changed man.  He had experienced traumatic events and as a result developed PTSD.  His struggles with mental health affected his wife and two daughters as they watched as their husband and father dealt with his issues now that he was back at home.  His eventual discharge from the Royal Marines was a result of a physical injury and just like the majority of occupationally injured Australian servicepersons; Adrian was soon pushed out the door with very little support and preparedness for his transition to civilian life.

As the forum was drawing to a close Paul invited Dr Brendan Nelson, director of the Australian War Memorial to speak and field some questions from the panel.  He spoke about the AWM’s role with supporting veterans of recent conflicts by having interactive exhibits and involving them with other projects the AWM is conducting.  As a former Minister for Defence he expressed his desire to see more support forthcoming as the Afghanistan War draws to a close.

As 7pm was quickly approaching a few of us in the audience were wondering if we would get a chance to ask questions of the panel.  Adrian was next to take the stage and he recounted some of his experiences post deployment and how support for veterans is extremely slow from the government in Britain.  He spoke of having his claim for assistance being rejected on the first submission; a trend very similar to that in Australia carried out by DVA.

Adrian expressed his concern for veterans being forgotten after the withdrawal from the Middle East and a strong desire for them to be able to access the support they deserve and not repeat the mistakes of the past.  He likened the struggles of today’s returned servicepersons to that of the Vietnam War era in the way that the fight for support continues even after the war on foreign soil has ended.

Adrian’s address to the panel and audience had clearly reached out to everyone with many of the Vietnam Veterans visibly moved by his honesty.  As he sat down Paul checked his watch and asked us sitting in the audience if anyone had anything questions or comments.  I had been sitting and fidgeting for the past 10 minutes waiting for this moment.  Several different introductions and talking points had gone through my head and all disappeared in the instant I raised my hand and Paul motioned for me to stand up.

I was shaking before I even started speaking; this was always going to be an emotionally charged interaction from me and I started by introducing myself.

“Hi I’m Chad, I separated from the Army early last year and have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety and I want to know why not enough is being done to help Australian veterans.”

I addressed LTGEN Leahy first and exclaimed to him that history was indeed repeating itself.

“I am a third generation Soldier, my Grandfather served in World War 2, my Father served in Vietnam and I have served in the Middle East.  I watch as my Father and his mates still struggle with PTSD with many Vietnam Veterans taking their own lives since the war ended.  I watch as my generation struggles with the same issues and now my mates, people I served with, are killing themselves because of PTSD and depression; and nothing is being done to stop this.  There are more people in the ground because of PTSD and depression than there are that are on the wall outside who were killed on operations.”

I spoke of my efforts to get help when the weight was becoming too much for me to bear and that the first two times I asked for assistance I was rebuffed by my unit RSM’s; a statement that clearly shocked LTGEN Leahy.  I was asked questions from both Allan Sparkes and Prof McDermott about my interactions with DVA and I recounted how I was told that my claim was going to be slow as my PTSD and depression ‘wasn’t that bad’.  I explained to them that is was at this point that I withdrew my claim and stopped interacting with DVA as I felt I was being accused of chasing money and that by not receiving financial assistance my criticism of their practices would hold more weight in a public forum.

I described my battles with depression and that very few people understood; and the simple act of asking for help effectively stalled my career in the Australian Army for a number of years.  The feeling of being ostracised and singled out was always present and that few people would support me when I asked for further help.  I explained that while MAGJEN Cantwell’s story is not an isolated one, the level of support and assistance he received was.  The average Digger in a unit has to contend with the ever present stigma of mental health issues and ignorance present within their chain of command and the probable persecution for not being able to fulfil their duties without restrictions.

I expressed astonishment that the very organisation founded to protect the rights of and provide assistance to veterans was failing in its primary role.  I emphatically asked how in the forty years since the end of the Vietnam War servicepersons are still not being afforded the support we fought for.  How it was possible that DVA can state they are still learning and getting better with a straight face as veterans from multiple deployments and generations kill themselves while waiting to access support services.

By this stage the room was silent and I had been speaking for around 20 minutes.  The panel while sometimes asking me questions and making statements had clearly been unprepared for such a raw and uncompromising speech from someone.  I had brought up some points with personal accounts of systematic failures from within the Australian Army, Australian Defence Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

There were some topics that I shared with a public forum that had only been discussed with medical professionals and not even shared with my wife and family.  As my speech drew to a close I expressed the hope that one day veterans would receive the appropriate support from the Government but that it was very unlikely to occur in my lifetime and that my children probably wouldn’t see it happen either.

As I finished speaking I apologised for hijacking the Q&A session; Paul started wrapping up the forum and I sat down nervously.  Jason patted me on the shoulder and most of the audience was either nodding in agreement or wiping away tears.  I sat shaking and started to feel quiet anxious from speaking to a mostly unknown audience about issues so personal and distressing that I had spent the last few years repressing and ignoring them.

The rest of the evening was spent talking with members of the audience and panel.  I received a great number of business cards and offers of assistance and opportunities to speak to other veterans and people with PTSD and depression.  I found the response surprising and was shocked when LTGEN Leahy approached me as he was leaving.  He handed me his business card and told me to email him.  He offered to take me to see the Minister of Veterans Affairs to discuss the issues I had brought up.

He told me that the Service Chiefs would be made aware of what I had spoken about and that I should continue speaking up.  Both he and Dr Nelson expressed the need for younger veterans to be the public faces and voices of our generation and that I should be one of them.  I was very humbled by this statement and thought a lot about it over the following days.

At the conclusion of a big night, I farewelled Jason and the Soldier On crew, thanked the others and started riding my bike back home.  The next 45 minutes were some of the most contemplative times of my life as I thought about what I had said and the inevitable shock-waves that they would create for my family and I when the ABC airs Boys Don’t Cry on Big Ideas in late 2013/early 2014.

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4 thoughts on “An Evening At The Australian War Memorial – Updated

  1. Thanks Chad; thanks for standing up and stating it as it is.

    I am identified by DLA Piper as the oldest valid claimant and this week was advised my abuse complaints were accepted by DART.

    Last year (19 February), after a 45 year battle Navy accepted liability for my war caused and non-war caused chronic serious disabilities, including PTSD, Bipolar and Borderline Personality disorder. I had served for almost 18 years from age 13 and in around 19 war zones; also in other Secret deployments. Ultimately, in August 2013, I was awarded pension denied me through abject and deliberate abandonment and betrayal by Navy at my time of discharge in December 1968.

    Discharged shortly after commendation for notable service when a LCDR RAN in the prestigious posting of Director Tactics & Weapons in Navy HQ. This discharge was early release from long BONDED INDENTURE (22 years in my case) and was proposed and arranged by then Deputy Navy Chief in light of events and my most serious problems, which basically ended my career which was on track for high rank. BUT, I had service caused medical problems much as did MAJGEN John Cantwell.

    After contrived external review, DVA was forced to apologise for horrendous abuses, including manufacture and use of false fraud against me causing me to fight three very costly fraud investigations, including where CDPP chastised DVA for actions against me 23 September 2004, BUT the DVA continued to abuse its power as shown in my website: http://www.veteransaffairscomplaints.com/ in addition, please check the website of an independent researcher, Mr Terry Fogarty, who took over from another researcher who tried, but failed to get change for almost 40 years: http://amvif.com/philanthropist/ This has more info on my case.

    BUT, my case and yours are symptomatic of much deeper problems.

    In my case, I have a very brave independent volunteer, Mr Paul Evans, who is a former DVA “insider” – he asked if I was well enough to have my case reopened 30 August 2010. Whilst we got external review and apology we have only achieved further abuses and total BLOCKAGE, yet 14 January 2014 DVA announced new very constricted external review into part of my case involving Paul Evans.

    This step was after DVA was chastised by OAIC 13 December 2012 and after a Code of Ethics enquiry.

    We had hoped for more; we had even hoped that I would be awarded the TPI for which I amply qualify; also for full compensation under SRCA, but NO-WAY, however we continue the battle.

    Bottom line is that we are fighting for recognition of vet issues when things go wrong and we are also fighting for understanding and change to bring fairness and “balance” into the equation.

    Many thanks Chad – your post came to me through Maryann Martinek who also lost her career in extraordinary circumstances and abuse. From Senator elect Lambie’s work, I understand that others have lost Navy careers in similar circumstances to my own and that abuses are more widespread than ever thought by DLA Piper and DART.

    We need to find a way to bring fairness and change and thanks you for your contribution.

  2. Extract from my message this morning to colleagues, including former DVA “insider” Paul Evans:

    We are engaged in an extraordinary battle with government, which has obviously raged for decades where not only has the blind eye been turned, but where government administration not only ridicules veterans and their diagnosed disabilities, but where, as in my case, DVA acts criminally and without conscience, but also with systemic abuses of power.

    Sadly this battle with government is very one sided, but it is also multi-faceted in inclusion of even the diverse case of Greg Darcy who has been seriously harmed by DVA; with flow-on to his wife Chris. Their battle is about most serious breaches and lies by the most senior DVA officials. However, somehow, Greg has made significant breakthrough to where he is basically dealing one-on-one with Secretary and Commissioner Lewis. I know of no other case. I know of only one case where apology for what seems small abuses in comparison with my own was made in fact by then Minister Griffin and Deputy Commissioner Carmody at which time Minister Griffin vilified me, comparing me with a jailed criminal and threatening to sue me for fraud ! OMGoodness can it ever get worse ?

    Somehow it needs to stop and be stopped AND we need to find another way.

  3. Bloody hell! And I thought I had copped injustice and abuse of bureaucratic power by DVA! Mine was nothing compared with yours, John. Don’t give up. “Nothing can stop a man who is in the right and who keeps on coming” though that proverb doesn’t say how long it will take.

    Since some DVA officials have run off the rails and chosen to treat us as The Enemy – may I suggest a practical suggestion for a counter-attack weapon against those same renegade officials who are taking the taxpayers money in the form of salary under false pretences by harming veterans rather than helping them:

    First: Separate the sheep from the goats – identify the actual individuals within DVA and its associated bodies who have caused abuse (this is so that the good ones do not get hurt as ‘collateral damage’). Second: Each of the scoundrels would have had to apply for their position; such positions are advertised and the key selection criteria for those positions would be easy though time-consuming to find (give the challenge to a bored kid for faster results). Third: Make a page for each of the mongrels; name and any info gleaned across the top third of the page; divide the bottom 2/3 into two columns with the Key Selection Criteria points on one side – and, on the other side, details of how they have FAILED to meet each criterion. Fourth: Call in your friends to have a discussion on any patterns of behaviour that emerge, especially where they have harmed other veterans in similar ways. Fifth: Then go for their jobs. They have to have regular reviews of their performance; these are usually a mere formality – so just make their next performance review as exciting as possible, and, have a back up plan in case those conducting the reviews are cut from the same cloth because there is no sense in going to all this trouble if the swine avoid being sacked.

    Good hunting! 🙂

  4. Chad, thanks a lot for your eloquent and very personal account of that evening. I’m an optimistic bastard so I do hope you have brought about some beneficial changes by your speaking out.

    The wars you were in – and their environments – were completely different to what I experienced …. but I am furious that you young fellows and your loved ones have to go though similar abuse and neglect to what we have had to put up with.

    When is it going to sink in that, in the long term, treating veterans’ illnesses and injuries early and getting veterans well integrated back into their own communities with the maximum of help is not only going save a mountain of revenue but increase it?.

    By the way, I know I’ve been a bit slack and used the term “veterans-and-peacekeepers” myself sometimes when it is obvious that peacekeepers have endured life-threatening hazards and the stresses of deployment so they are veterans too …. Glad that former Police officer spoke that evening; we sometimes forget the severe stresses that non-soldiers undergo day in day out.

    Keep it up, Chad.

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