Appendix A—veteran testimonials

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Each of the accounts below tells an intensely personal and harrowing story. Each is articulate and communicates something distinctive. Each account represents an Australian soldier. The stories relate to individual personal experiences in most cases, but in a small number, the experiences relate to a spouse or close personal friend. Unless otherwise stated, all these veterans had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, or both—some, multiple times each. I met these men and women on the Kokoda Track during a trek organised for recovering veterans. We spent eleven days together on the Track which overlapped with the 100 year Anzac anniversary of 2015. When we returned to Australia, I spoke to each of these veterans and recorded some of their experiences. I explicitly avoided asking them about their traumatic experiences on military deployments for several reasons. There are many such accounts in the public domain already and I wanted to avoid dredging up traumatic memories for these men and women, many of whom were struggling to cope with the pressures of life post-Army. I wanted to avoid the temptation of giving a sentimental and emotion-laden account that might detract from an objective evaluation of this complex issue and the presentation of some possible solutions. Instead, my focus in the questions I posed was to briefly catalogue the impact on their lives (to provide context) before turning to solutions and exploring what could be changed or done better. The following accounts are sometimes fragmented and confusing. I limited my editing of these stories in order to present the accounts as they were given. I have likewise avoided the temptation to categorise these comments into like groups as I felt it would break the flow of each story. The comments are often revealing and set the tone for a discussion on what are complex but urgent issues. Identifying information has been changed to protect the identities of these men and women.


Samuel did 20 years in the Infantry, working his way through the Other Ranks to become a Warrant Officer. He was a man of few words. He was not particularly comfortable talking about the subject himself and also remarked that he felt it was difficult to get even his close mates to talk about PTSD.

I haven’t suffered from PTSD myself but mates and family have. As an observer, my father-in-law is a Vietnam vet and suffers from PTSD, dementia and a host of physical ailments; mates suffer from PTSD and depression.

[Relationship with Defence] Generally it seems to be one of mistrust, especially the hierarchy and decision makers if in their mind it contributed to their injuries or the situation that resulted in the condition.

[Department of Veterans’ Affairs] Always busy and stretched. You are a number, as more defence personnel are diagnosed.

[Community organisations] Usually find out about these organisations through mates, but they are set up by people looking after their own and by charity from others because government and defence had nothing in place. There are issues that are not treated fairly, not enough.

They do not trust and don’t feel great having to talk to psychologists and counsellors. There is stigma involved with sharing with strangers. They say there is no stigma, but there is still. It is still a mindset amongst soldiers and officers generally of a person who can’t sort out his own stuff. I have witnessed negative stigma from PTSD. People still whisper and spread stories. There is still not enough education in the public and so not as much empathy for people’s situations. There are not enough services and support available for sufferers of PTSD.

A lot of it is about mindset. Think of the soldier’s welfare and what is best for them and their loved ones. You sent them there and when they return their lives are never the same. As a soldier, you are trained from recruit training to kill or subdue your enemy. To be the best and uphold the traditions of the Anzacs. As men, we are too scared to say we are not good enough or that we need help at times. We would die for each other but we will not talk about our fears to each other because the vulnerability and embarrassment is too much at times. This leads to disempowerment, isolation, confusion and despair, where we are helpless. Many choose suicide to end it or live lives of quiet desperation. It affects the community at large. It needs community help. It needs mates helping each other and looking out for each other. It needs education and listening to the veterans. It needs funds for rehabilitation.

John is a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer who served in the Infantry for more than 20 years. He was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2014.

Personally it was a difficult time as I didn’t really have any answers why I was depressed and I couldn’t attribute it to any one incident. It was confusing and embarrassing as I had no control of my emotions and could not trust myself to keep it all in check. Initially it was something I tried to hide, but it got to a stage where I was totally useless and couldn’t concentrate on anything except trying to hide my condition.

I have an ongoing relationship with Defence and am back on full time duties; however, I feel a disconnect with Army and no longer believe they have my best interests in mind. My issues with depression are not something that are gone altogether but more a case of something I manage on a day-to-day basis. There are times where I feel very down or agitated but I now have tools for keeping on top of these feelings and I know that I have the ability to get counselling if it gets to be something more than I can handle. My concern is now that although I have only been fully upgraded in the last month or so, I will potentially be posted out of my current location at the end of 2015 despite the fact that it means I will be posted married-separated (my partner is unable to break her current work contract until 2018). I just purchased my house in Sydney in August 2014 and my daughters live with their Mum in Wollongong which is only a two hour drive from my current posted locality. A posting to somewhere interstate is highly likely and the Army has not given any thought to the pressures that a posting away will present, or how it may affect my health and wellbeing. This is why I say that I don’t believe the Army has my best interests in mind.

When I was diagnosed as having depression and anxiety issues, I was effectively downgraded medically. The period of MEC [Medical Employment Classification] downgrade was approximately 12 months, during which time I was not eligible to participate in any courses, exercises, training, weapon handling, driving of a military vehicle, etc. At certain ranks and windows in a soldier’s career you only have limited opportunity to be considered for promotion or attendance on promotion and career advancement courses. If you are ineligible for these activities due to being MEC downgraded, you essentially miss the window and that opportunity has flow-on effects for the remainder of your career. For example, DSCMA [Directorate Soldier Career Management Agency] will compare you against your peers for such things as promotion by looking at everyone’s annual PARs [Performance Appraisal Reports] over a period of 3–5 yrs. If you have been unable to participate in all activities and exercises, then your annual PAR will reflect this and you are no longer going to be competitive with your peers for promotion, courses or certain jobs.

I believe [there are enough services and support for sufferers of mental illness], yes. In my opinion, Defence have worked hard to implement and provide support services to address issues and provide more opportunities than most civilian workplaces.

I think most people’s perception of mental health is that they have no real understanding of the issues until they, or someone close to them, is affected. This was most certainly the case for me. I guess what I am trying to say is that previously I was very sceptical of anyone who claimed to have PTSD, because I thought it only happened to people who were weak to begin with.

Sara is the wife of a veteran of Iraq:

I have several friends who have PTSD—most aren’t very open about it—and it manifests differently in each. To me they all seem lost, they need someone (either an actual person or an organisation) who will actually listen and guide them. Most turn to their mates from the army, those that fall through the cracks seem to be those who have moved back home, and subsequently have lost contact with army friends, or who don‘t want to ask for help. Some don’t know what services are on offer, or where to find them, or think it will cost money that they don’t have. My personal experience with diggers I know with PTSD has been quiet conversations about the experiences they’ve had overseas, what they’ve done, what they’ve seen and it mostly ends with ‘that’s just how it is I guess‘. There are a number of diggers I know with quite serious physical injuries, but they hide them from the army as they won’t be able to continue in their role if the army knew.

[Are there enough services/support available for sufferers of PTSD/mental health issues, in your experience?] No, particularly in regards to homelessness. I think there also needs to be greater support for those who are transitioning from ADF life to the civilian world. Greater support in getting ADF qualifications recognised (or ADF being recognised as a training provider would be even better so that qualifications don’t need to be transferred), helping ex-ADF members find work (particularly work that makes them feel valued). I have a friend who is a highly-qualified Combat Engineer, who did three trips to Afghanistan, left the army and went back to working at the freezer in Coles where he was before he joined—hardly a recognition of his skills and it hugely devalued him.

I think there needs to be greater provision of services for those currently serving and a cultural change is required from senior members of the ADF (not so much officer level, more Sergeant, WO2 and WO1 level where the culture really hasn’t changed much in 20 years). I’ve heard WO1s call blokes who are genuinely injured ‘lingers’ [malingerers] on more than one occasion—disparaging at best and downright contemptible in light of genuine illness and injury.

Currently it seems that the system is geared in such a way as to place an onus of proof on the veteran, so rather than ‘how can we help you?‘, the system is ‘what do you want? Prove that you deserve it‘. Clearly this would add stress to an already stressful situation. I know that my husband has three outstanding claims that he’s yet to make because there’s too much administration involved and he thinks it’s not worth it to make a claim—too much stress involved for little result. I think the system is overly complex, especially in light of several factors (which I think are currently over-looked). They are as follows:

  • The education standard of a large percentage of people from the armed forces is actually relatively low, especially diggers. Many haven’t finished school, and those that have tend towards the practical side of the equation, rather than scholarship. As such, multiple forms and reporting requirements are not only daunting, but unachievable for some.
  • People with a service-related injury are already stressed—tackling a system like DVA, especially with the waiting times involved, is only going to add to this stress. Waiting times must be reduced, particularly involving those with mental illness. I would suggest a triage system whereby an immediate assessment is made of the duress that a person who presents is under, and emergency services offered accordingly. If it saves one life, a system like this has paid for itself.
  • I think the system needs to be more accommodating and better at communicating what service members need to provide. It needs to be made clear what a claimant needs to provide and the rationale behind why they need to provide the information.
  • I think that DVA needs to be clear in the turnaround time on claims. Clear and direct communication is what service members are used to, and if you provide a clear time frame for someone, they can see an end point, which will hugely reduce stress.
  • I think the general attitude of DVA should be ‘what can we do for you/how can we help you?‘. Careful consideration needs to be given to staffing and the manner in which staff deal with service members who are making claims.

I think the ADF medical system needs considerable change overall. It’s backward at best and risk-averse in the extreme. Some of the PTSD issues stem from service personnel being medically downgraded and considered unfit for their role, when the reality is with correct physio and support services there is no reason they can’t continue in their role. I know a considerable number of ADF members who use outside services, and pay for them out of their own pocket, because the services provided by the army medically are inadequate and antiquated. Further overhaul of PT practices within the army, and rehabilitation programs need genuine improvement. Having worked on an army base and seen the rehab for physical injuries it is hopelessly inadequate; with people not getting better physically, this is only going to add to mental health issues.

The following are the words of Charlie who served in the Army for eight years.

Yes, I have a lot of mates who suffered from PTSD. Some committed suicide but I’m unsure whether it was totally PTSD, or that started the downwards spiral and drugs/alcohol, or something else, contributed to, or sped up, the process. I have mates at the moment who are suffering in some form or another and others I suspect, but haven’t spoken to about it.

Myself personally, I don’t believe I suffer from PTSD. I have gone through many of the same experiences as some mates above, minus the full-on combat, poverty, death, riots, locals killing each other. The way I look at it is that everyone changes from life experiences whether it be a football grand final that you won that will always be remembered, or a deployment as such. If anything, I get agitated easily and have no patience for laziness and not doing the right thing by others; however, this is most likely a family trait shown in others who have not served. I do have streaks of—let’s call them ‘outbreaks’—where I tend to lose my shit for a few seconds where I can do silly things like road rage or abuse, but again that can’t be fully attributed to deployments. They are also very rare. I believe it’s an integration back into society thing, and is often just called PTSD because it’s easier to put something into a category rather than understand the deeper issue—that being that defence is a lifestyle more than a job and once leaving that lifestyle, things change. You see it in football players a lot where they are placed on pedestals and are given everything, and upon leaving, they struggle because of that lifestyle change and adapting to the real world.

I have hurt myself a number of times and that was one of the leading reasons for my discharge, but it was at my own will. I did however have DVA pay for a full ankle surgery in 200X. I still miss it and am thinking about joining as a medic, my current civilian trade. Plus my wife still serves, so I usually go with her to happy hour every fortnight/month and mix with defence.

[Contact with DVA] I receive newsletters off them quarterly due to my ankle surgery and white card I have for that.

[Contact with community organisations] Apart from being part of the Admin team for the Kokoda event, nothing.

[Career effects of a PTSD diagnosis] From a recent experience of seeing a family friend suffer from this, from what I have seen, when it came out he was already in a lot of trouble so it didn’t help the situation. His career was put on hold; however, I think this progression probably would have happened anyway. He was medically discharged and from what I’ve seen as an outsider not knowing the thought process behind both parties, is that they are funnelled into it. To a degree I think it’s fair as you don’t want these people bringing down the team due to the negativity and such. To the actual PTSD sufferer it’s probably not fair, but I think more attention needs to be paid to it as a medical condition maybe, and coaching to get back on track and re-enter the workforce. Many times I’ve seen PTSD suffers do silly or stupid things which gets them in trouble and moved on before coming to the realisation of the motivation behind these actions. By this stage it’s usually been too late.

[Stigma] Yes, and I was one of these people who looked upon it negatively as a younger soldier. Having gone through some of the experiences myself I could not see why people who signed up to do just that, could break easily. I never said anything and tended to move away from people who were suffering. These days I don’t believe that, possibly because of some of the guys I used to look up to as a younger soldier who now suffer or/and because of the scale of it within Defence/ex-Defence.

Reasons that I believe I didn’t suffer like or as bad as others: I felt supported during operations, such as mail continuity. I had a chance to get away everyday. My own diary that I wrote everyday where I could, or at least caught up when I could. There was relaxed leadership, always away from command and able to concentrate on the job. I grew up sheltered from the world, but rough and tough. Grew up competitive as in not giving up. I keep forgetting not only events, but unimportant things (can recall clearly and with more detail when prompted or I read my diary). I get distracted easy.

I abused alcohol on return. Being sick every morning and not realising till I put my hand or foot into it on return from my first deployment. I felt a lack of sympathy. Being able to switch emotion off when needed and being able to concentrate on the job, whatever that is, home or abroad. I have done some road rage, dangerous acts on the road. High expectations in my relationship has been stressful.

Possible reasons that might contribute to PTSD:

  • Lack of support during and after [deployments]
  • No timeout, always on the job
  • High threat level
  • Stressful situations
  • Pessimist
  • Coming to terms with struggling
  • Long-term health effects
  • Lack of recognition, or wrong recognition
  • Band-aid solutions

For DVA to improve they need to:

  • Not group or pool people into groups
  • Tailor packages to individuals
  • Psych or councillor assigned to member should have power to make decisions
  • Bureaucracy and red tape don’t work so well when dealing with human suffering as every need is different, and because of the complexity of PTSD, most coming forward need help immediately, without having to go through some red tape that stipulates hoops they need to jump through to get there.
  • Swift and immediate help and support in whatever capability is needed. For example, gym, martial arts, medication—I believe sport and PT are excellent for the mind.
  • Encouraging lifestyle habits and change, being healthy and active
  • Having an end state in mind, for example, being on your own two feet with job     
  • Remembering outside influences contribute to stress
  • Having timeout to wind down
  • Feeling worthwhile
  • Veteran cards and discounts
  • More recognition of veterans on Anzac Day
  • The opportunity to talk about experiences in a safe and comfortable setting
  • Possible short courses to carers, parents, partners and even children
  • Knowing, regardless of job role, where you fit in the scheme of things, that it is a worthy and much needed asset for the greater overall picture—completion of the mission. That goes to combat roles also, as it’s easy to see where they fit in, but not always evident where their support does.
  • List of benefits to veterans—on a website that’s easy to use. State to state, town to town, as many business and organisations do offer stuff to veterans, it’s just not known about
  • DVA fixing their name
  • Poor quality
  • You have to bung it on to get anything
  • Possibly too much money spent on contracts that can be done in-house. For example, health and gym memberships
  • Using organisations effectively, like the RSL
  • Society is changing. No longer sit over beers and talk. They prefer adventure, gym, lifestyle
  • Library support
  • Education support with end state
  • Online courses
  • Having the veteran in mind and a clear end state decided by both parties, not funnelled into one.
  • Possible ongoing communication. If not, set time periods via phone and email, not SMS.

I tried to use my own experiences as I believe I cope very well when a lot of mates have fallen to the wayside. I also tried to think of reasons that contribute to it. One thing I thought of a long time ago is that on enlistment with all the testing done, a personality test should also be done and used down the track to see if a certain type of personality does tend to suffer more then another type. I know they do a similar test on the SF testing, but that is more to see if you would, or could, be suited to that role. That way, once studies have been done, more can be done to monitor those that are more prone.

In my experience, in an infantry company the OC is the one that dictates the outcome, readiness, fitness and strength of it. You can have average CSMs [Company Sergeant Majors] and SGTs, however if you have great OCs [Officer Commanding] and good Corporals, the diggers can be manipulated easily enough. I’ve been lucky and had pretty good SGTs, CPLs and OCs, however if a poor OC is in charge that’s when trouble can set in, including depression. Two great OCs that come to mind are X, whom I believe is now the 1RAR CO [Commanding Officer] or has just left, and X, who, if still in, would be close to a Brigadier or General, possibly in Canberra. Strong leadership is definitely a key in encouraging, maintaining and developing a soldier mentally, as well as physically. I think a lot more effort needs to be placed upon OCs and CPLs to maintain a soldier’s mental capability.

Harry spent 17 years in the Australian Regular Army. He is a veteran of East Timor and Afghanistan, where he was seriously wounded.

My father and his friends [suffered from PTSD]. I was told stories of military service and I was raised under very strict rules. I told my father and promised myself, I would not be like him because of the anxiety and stress he put onto my brother and I. Military friends, former and still serving—I have numerous friends that show signs of PTSD I believe, and they have been diagnosed because of their comments and actions. At times I can feel anxious and stressed when being around them. I have witnessed a lot of them always living in the moment, what happened in Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, which I try to limit myself from.

I have been diagnosed with PTSD and I know I had it from East Timor (1999) when a few incidents occurred in Australia with my wife at the time. I have been a strong believer that PTSD makes you stronger, I felt you are looked at differently in the Army if you spoke out, and possibly lose command and rank. I believe in self-medication and I have only been medicated when I have been admitted to hospitals for PTSD breakdowns. I have had numerous breakdowns, with only a few reported. When reported and admitted to hospital I have always been medicated, which I would take myself off when discharged because I didn’t like the feeling.

I completed a PTSD course in 2010, which made me question my mindset. The course raised a number of issues and I didn’t like the way people who didn’t know me, perceived me. Part of my self-medication is routine and exercise. I find routine and exercise helps with slowing down my thinking and helps me to change my mindset from being passive-aggressive to passive, I feel.

As a single father (divorced) and a competitor in a few sports, I am forced to interact with society. This is difficult because of my thoughts and feelings, but also because of the way I perceive society viewing my losses: sometimes I think people are looking at me when they are not, or people are staring. Interacting with society is cognitively tiring, which then physically tires me. I know most of my PTSD triggers, although some just pop up, and I try to implement strategies to reduce my anxiety and stress, which works sometimes. If my anxiety and stress takes hold, I become quickly depressed and it takes a lot of effort to get out of my depressive state, up to two months. There are tell-tale signs that I know let me know I’m depressed because I’m not myself; I find it hard to see that I’m in a depressive state, it is difficult when you want to be better.

On top of being forced to interact with society as a competitor and a single father, attending uni has been my grounding. It was very difficult to attend uni for two years because of my thoughts, feelings, and how people perceived my actions, passive-aggressive. Uni was pass or fail to me; I don’t like to fail and I needed to find my identity again, so I was forced to interact with young students, middle-age students, and lectures. Apart from the routine of attending lectures, I found the lectures empowering and educational. They helped me to view things differently, but more importantly the lectures slow down my thinking process, I feel. To focus, I had to listen and to be present mentally and physically. I try to reduce my contact with former and current soldiers that live in the past; it doesn’t help me where my anxiety is increased.

[Ongoing relationship with Defence] I have a number of friends in defence, but I have found that I am no longer a part of their circle and culture. They go field, play sport with units; I can’t get access onto the base, therefore I don’t fit. I do speak to some of them out of Defence, but I have to make the effort as they are field or tired from working. Military friends that have similar sports interests are in more regular contact because they wish to train, or wish to know what is the next competition. I have only two friends in this group. I keep in contact with about eight Defence personnel all over Australia and numerous former soldiers via email, social media, or social meet-ups.

[Contact with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs] I usually go through my appointed occupational therapist to advocate on my behalf because we need to justify for my needs. I have a DVA case manager that I did speak to from time-to-time when I make contact...

Since my discharge from Defence I have had a lot of frustration with my transition to DVA. What was allowed and proved to be a need in Defence, needed to be proven again and reasons for it [provided] to DVA. There is no link between the two, creating stress to families and individuals.

A lot of the families and individual‘s stress and frustration also comes from Comsuper; incorrect allowance and very long time frames for replies... Families are waiting up to 12 months for determinations to be reconsidered.

[Contact with community organisations] I try to socialise through competitions that are organised [by] community organisation groups. I am also involved with Soldier On. Any money given to me for motivational presentations is asked to be given to Soldier On. Soldier On has assisted me to compete in the Mark Webber Challenge and to hike the Kokoda Trail. I believe all policies need to be reviewed within DVA and Comsuper. DVA policies need to reflect on today’s technology, devices, and evidence-based research to help clients in a ‘quick and swift’ time frame. Comsuper needs to award people their correct classification and if a review is needed, it is reviewed in two–three months, compress reply and subject views [sic] create financial hardship and stress on families and individuals. It would also be beneficial if DVA has access to Defence records or items approved, to assist an individual and family’s needs is flagged and passed on—this may mean all three groups (DVA, Comsuper and [Defence]) employ a computer system for former soldiers and their families quickly, not prolong results.

[Stigma] Yes! I have seen an officer withdrawn from a promotional course; I have seen people alienating soldiers in Defence because they have PTSD; they walk around on eggshells and talk behind their back, isolate soldiers from exercises and functions...

[Services and support] Yes! There are a lot of services available, people just need to be educated about the services they provide and how families and individuals can get in contact with them. It can get overwhelming as well because there are so many services.

[Policy suggestions] As stated above, I have found routine, competing, and going to uni the best for me. I strongly believe it is about changing an individual’s mindset and giving them the tools. At the same time, I do not think PTSD is something that people should ‘walk on eggshells‘ about. Soldiers need to take responsibility as much as those that provide the tools to assist.

Everyone is different, but ownership in one’s actions is a must too, from what I have learnt. I have seen too many people blame their PTSD and medication for their actions. I have seen Defence try to deal with this; they are trying to move forward, positively, but people need to take responsibility too, it is easy to blame others and to take the easy road. Sorry, but this is draining…


David was an infantry soldier and was wounded during his tour of Afghanistan.

Many men I served with suffered PTSD. Sadly, I could not realise [sic] the symptoms until I discharged and enrolled in youth work, learning about mental illnesses and disorders. My Sergeant overseas wanted nothing more than to capture and kill the Taliban. In some circumstances, almost putting soldiers in jeopardy to push further and fight harder. His psych screening when he returned was also concerning. Question: What was the best thing about Afghanistan? Answer: Killing Taliban. Q. What was the worst thing about Afghan? A. Not killing enough.

My boss (Lieutenant) shot and killed a Taliban suicide bomber.[He] now suffers severe PTSD and struggles to live days without seeing him in his life. My Corporal was bipolar. Happy one minute, then throwing helmets, magazines and whatever he could put his hands on to enforce his authority. Friends of mine have confided in me about their suicidal thoughts and attempts; struggling to make ends meet in and out of the Defence Force. My Sergeant was psychologically discharged from the army due to an unstable mind.

I have had a good stable relationship with DVA but I was also very fortunate having a grade A+ case manager when I was first injured. She fought and took on everything that aided my initial recovery. When I discharged from the army I went straight to my local RSL and sought out a dedicated advocate. For me, he was a great help and managed compensation matters, mental health professionals and educational benefits.

A Sergeant from my sister platoon was blown up from an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] attack on my tour in 200X. Both of his ankles were shattered, tibia and fibula with fractures all up them and he broke his arm also. He is concurrently undergoing surgeries to this date. He has had major involvement with ‘Soldier On’ whom I believe has helped him financially and with aiding equipment such as chairs, a T.V. and a laptop. He has also had involvement with the ‘Mates for Mates’ sailing team. He was always proactive, which aided his mental health.

I do not believe they [issues described] were [addressed fairly]. All members, including myself, were given the green light upon returning to Australia after our tour to Afghanistan. I clearly remember all three of my screenings, two of which were with young females under the age of 25 with no history of deployment, and after a few quick general questions I walked out the door after 10 minutes. I do not understand how I was so easily assessed and given back to the battalion. I had only just turned 19, shot through both thighs, nightmares each evening and total confusion from chronic nerve damage. I do not understand why critical questions aiming to discover depth within my mind were not drawn to the surface and assessed professionally. Also, if a Sergeant suggested that ‘not killing enough Taliban‘ was a bad thing, how is someone allowed to continue in that role for a further four years? I respected and admired him but someone of this stability could severely affect upcoming soldiers who look to Sergeants for support and knowledge.

If you went to the padre or psych, [you were seen as], for lack of a better word, [a] ‘poofter, faggot or weak cu*t’; sorry for the use of this language but to understand how demoralising it was for some soldiers, these words must be used. It started from higher ranks such as a Sergeant or Corporal and as you could imagine, it only manifested tenfold amongst the diggers. I clearly remember one soldier who was thrown into a cage, locked in there like an animal, a cold bucket of water tossed in and a broomstick poked through the gaps. This is a severe case but stands true. He was later psychologically discharged from the Army. Of course that’s not fair. This was not uncommon and rank just turned a blind eye or walked out of the room when this behaviour was developing. A friend recently told me that he believes some of the courageous men he served with, were the diggers that copped sh*t every single day of their service. They were belittled, demoralised, but yet they continued to stand by their mates and serve their duty. There are enough services, though once in the civilian society your options are limited, especially if you are not around Defence establishments. Mental health is thankfully evolving and becoming more recognised, but my view is one of a civilian now. I am unsure what the stigma is like within the pearly gates.

I believe to reach out to the younger veterans, there needs to be more involvement recreationally. Four-wheel drive trips, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, gardening, or surfing. I personally have benefitted greatly through the outdoor environment. I believe the R.S.Ls are doing a fantastic job but young diggers don’t want to hang out and drink in a pub. Outdoor trips could be run and sponsored by the R.S.L, using the outdoors as the natural therapeutic healing option alongside medical professionals.

The environment helps people know they’re real again. An example is an ex-veteran friend of mine who suffers depression and severe anxiety. He surfs and bases his life around it. Why? Because when he is out behind the surf break, he feels completely safe, away from humans and life’s little dramas. When he surfs large waves the adrenaline is the closest feeling he can relate with, when we fought together in Afghanistan.

We need to look outside the box, literally; I see a psychologist and I can feel the benefits of us working together in the medical room. Many veterans are intimidated and threatened by this little white box we see health professionals in. [We] need to use different environments with health professions together. The R.S.L of Melbourne, the duckboard is starting a programme called ‘dogs for diggers’; this is a fantastic idea. Brilliant in fact, I hope it succeeds.

Bill served in Special Forces in the 1960s and 1970s and is a veteran of Vietnam.

I suffer from PTSD myself; however, I can manage symptoms and the occasional meltdown with strategies including knowing and avoiding triggers. [I was] discharged in ‘73 after a twelve year career as an Officer with SASR [Special Air Services Regiment] Commandos and the RAR [Royal Australian Regiment]. I was awarded the Military Cross, Vietnam 1966–67. I wrote a book about my platoon in Vietnam. Stigma still is a key issue. In the past, I didn’t want people to know I had a mental illness. I was too embarrassed and too frightened to admit fear of ridicule in a macho environment; fear of not being redeployed, promoted, or being overlooked for key sensitive postings.

CDF [Chief of the Defence Force] and CA [Chief of Army] understand the issue—they have genuine empathy; however, stigma persists at JNCO [Junior Non-Commissioned Officer] and soldier level. A key failure in centralised health changes is the loss of RMOs (Regimental Medical Officer) in the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) Infantry Battalions. Part of the problem as I see it, is that soldiers get on an adrenaline high that you never come down from, leading to self-medication through alcohol.

I’ve made a life for myself in spite of my condition, but there are still issues I need to control. I didn’t know I had PTSD, didn’t know what it was until 1988, during a social gathering with old Army colleagues, and while drinking, many of my Vietnam experiences came to the surface. I got home and my family had never heard me swear nor seen me cry. I just kept repeating ‘nobody fu*king understands’. In the morning I apologised profusely and my wife told me ‘you’ve got a problem and you have to do something about it‘.

I got a lot of help from a psych with army knowledge. Before I wouldn’t discuss my PTSD with anyone, including my own family. Now I believe I can help others by talking about it. I couldn’t relate to a pretty 23 year old psych but would debrief with a mate who has been through similar. I don’t think there is a solution to the whole problem. It doesn’t exist. We need to thank all service people and then encourage them to seek help if they need it. Families should also be able to get this help because they often suffer the most.

The Australian Defence Force and Department of Veterans’ Affairs has a duty of care for the whole of life for all vets. [There is a] need to address the gap between discharge and DVA registration. I’d like to see a national ID card to identify veterans as such. The key issues to my mind are soldiers and suicide and self-harm, homelessness, crime and being put in gaol, and domestic violence. There are no stats available on these things. This will have a financial saving as once [you are]TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated] you are paying for a person’s lifetime. There should be more pre-deployment training, to harden soldiers up mentally, know what to expect. Politicians must know it is an accepted condition that will not go away and requires early intervention, and it shouldn’t preclude someone from employment.


Marcus joined in the 1990s as an Army Sergeant. He is now awaiting discharge on medical grounds that are mental health-related.

They gave me as many drugs as they could, that was the treatment. I got PTSD from my first trip in 200X—I was lucky, I got in under the old scheme; my mate told me to get in before the system changes and it becomes harder; I got a good advocate, a psych, I was 26 years old. He asked me if I wanted to retire now? I said ‘no’ so he made me 75%.

Back then I kept it to myself, there was a lot of stigma in that era, it wasn’t discussed in the early 2000s; ‘you’re a weak cu*t’; kept it to myself and did not receive any treatment for ten years; it can build up with all the moving around they make you do, it puts strain on your relationship and you can’t make any friends. I still get depression and anxiety and flashbacks.

Didn’t go through Defence; I did give them snippets of what was wrong but they didn’t do anything with that. You do your POPS [Post Operational Psychological Screen] after three months and that was it. And, if it brought up something, there’s no follow up, no one asked ‘are you alright mate?’

Defence will get caught short in the future with veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Army are not expecting it will happen. Others will say: ‘You’re treating me like sh*t, I’m out’. It leads to problems with alcohol and they are not followed up. I have been drinking a slab a day for 14 years. I didn’t have the confidence to go the psych within army, they didn’t understand. Civ [civilian] psychologist was good, now I’m making progress. I went to Ward 17, I had a total breakdown, they discharged me and I was re-admitted. Alcohol with meds circle goes around, long process—I’m quoting psychs.

Will never get over it, you’ve seen what you’ve seen, some struggle to deal with it. If surprised by fireworks I jump, I look at every person in a shopping centre so I know they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and are not a threat to me or my family. It means I stay at home a lot which leads to depression and drinking and medication.

[DVA] No dramas, they were excellent; I had a great advocate, it didn’t cost me nothing [sic]; I got a white card in three months and I got a gold card now. Some have struggled with DVA, now they’ve got to get different proof and different opinions.

[Fair treatment] Long process, it’s taken them one year and I’m still waiting for discharge; I don’t know, Canberra to sign off. Defence is losing a hell of a lot of money. They know that, they know the system is sh*t. The psych told me it’s a sh*t system; you just have to turn up and show your face, they don’t treat you or nothing.

Ward 17 at the Austin civilian psych, I now have the opportunity to go back to Ward 17; one psych took an interest in my case, he set it all up for me, I’ve had a gravy train ride … lucky.

PTSD main thing (in my career), it’s hard to say. Would get to a year and my arse would drop out. I was outspoken and critical of the moochers so they moved me around a lot. Family wife serving member, she’s been diagnosed with PTSD from a civilian psych but hasn’t claimed DVA; she’s biding her time, enjoying her career for now.

Stigma [in the] 1990s, RAP [Regimental Aide Post] your section commander: ‘you’re weak’. If you weren’t participating then you were ostracised; less now, DVDs recognising our soldiers have PTSD but too late.

They weren’t ready for East Timor. They got to fix the medical side; Defence, if you bring up stuff, needs to follow up [on an] ongoing [basis]. PTSD may linger in the back of ya [sic] and comes back out. Reliving all your other sh*t. Once diagnosed, a slick transition from military to civilian is needed. Still waiting [puts] ‘I’m in or out’ pressure on your family. Nah not really, I’ve been lucky, the system has failed others recently. If you don’t pass that, you’ve going to get the arse, what defence wants. Army will cop landslide of cases, they’re not prepared, everyone’s experienced something that could trigger PTSD.

Denise served for nine years and was medically discharged on mental health grounds.

During my service I did not, that I recall, encounter anyone suffering from mental illness; I did come across many during my service who, like me, were recipients of abuse both administrative and sexual in nature that caused our behaviours to change. Since leaving the service I have come into contact with people, but feel as though more military people would be better suited. PTSD from Defence seems foreign to those outside of it.

[Medically/personally] I become anti-social, often bed-ridden, due to high anxiety and inability to cope; I am on anti-depressants and see my psychiatrist weekly; during tougher times, up to three times a week.

[Ongoing relationship with Defence] Not much, if any, except to get service files.

[Contact with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs] Has been horrible. Several times I have been given misinformation, delayed and also mistreated. Recently, their social worker located in the Sydney office that deals primarily with sexual abuse found it amazing that I would appeal the recent DVA decision around the rape and gang rape.

[Fair treatment] No PTSD can appear to DVA like a blanket medical term. Everyone has it, so it is not taken seriously. They fail to see that in a majority of cases, it is real. That just because at times we put on this façade that everything is wonderful, [doesn’t mean] we are [not] actually thinking how can I end this pain. I have not been able to hold down employment without breaking down, or extended medical leave. Since 200X, I have not worked in a normal position and find that one hour of teaching meditation a week can be stressful.

[Have you witnessed the effects of mental health related stigma?] All the time with DVA; outside yes, but mainly because people do not understand. Once they get to know this is real, then they are compassionate. I can understand from the government’s point of view that there needs to be some boundaries set so it does not become a free ride for those who are not affected. However, PTSD is not fun and goes on for years. Maybe put some of these workers in the field for a day or even really listen to us, live our lives for a week. Wearing nappies because you are too disturbed to leave your bed to go to the toilet three metres away in your own home is not fun.

Sometimes it is hard for me to even fathom that I have PTSD and that what I go through is what others go through daily. My girlfriend in Sydney has spent time at the DVA hospital in the psych ward and says that has been helpful. Hospitals for me do the opposite, although I admit I have never tried the DVA hospital, (I would not even know if Perth has one). It is hard to comprehend how I have it, unlike many others who have served and had to shoot people, all I had was a rape, sexual assault and a gang rape, as well as various administrative screw-ups and medical mistreatment after a major car accident causing brain damage—all documented on medical and personnel files. However, I do have it and if I have a hard time understanding it, I can see how others do. There is no ‘my story is worse than yours’, or one event being seen as less stressful. I am very fortunate that the psychiatrist I see in Perth is a leader in his field and therefore very knowledgeable and supportive. I also understand there are variances in PTSD and that mine is a multiple or complex case as the abuse spanned over seven years, as well as the last 16 years from leaving the Defence Force. It has taken me this long to find the right doctors and support to even re-start many of the appeal processes. I have no set trigger that stimulates an onset of behaviour; mine varies from a bowl of porridge one day, which I eat most mornings, to a loud noise another day, to someone not sitting right. We are sending our Defence to wars so we need to also ensure that we have the medical support for them when they get back.


The following are Gary’s words:

I served with 1RAR from 200X until 200X in the Army Royal Australian Regiment Infantry. Private proficient. I would like to elaborate; my promotion was held back due to a platoon commander who had no idea who I was or what I had done, after I informed him that I had a back injury and leg injury that I had sustained whilst on SAS selection in Perth. He then commented by saying ‘weak back, weak heart; I don’t feel that you will need your promotion‘.

I have been diagnosed with PTSD and Chronic Depressive Disorder. I’m not sure how it has affected me on a medical level, however, on a personal level, I don‘t sleep very well, I have a tendency to wander in my sleep; some of these wanders have me stripping bedding off the bed, turning all the lights in the house on, opening cupboard doors. I think I have snakes in my bed; I have had my partner terrified because I have been so sure that there are snakes in the bed or in the room. My partner wakes up with me sitting on the end of the bed. I have night terrors that are wide and varied. The list goes on with my sleep issues. I have a problem with my mental focus sometimes; the doctor told me I hyper focus, which means that when I’m in one of my moods I will concentrate and focus on the task at hand so intently that I don’t have any idea of the consequences as to what is happening around me. The best way to describe it is that I will pull a whole car apart and destroy it just to get the CD out of the stereo; [it’s] all about achieving my goal. I have extreme anger outbursts for minor reasons.

I have no ongoing relationship with Defence. The only contact that I have had with DVA is to have my physio and my counselling paid for. Soldier On Kokoda was the first community organisation that I had contact with. My contact with the whole venture was more of a support role; I was not one of the sponsored wounded on the trip. I chose to keep relatively quiet about my physical injuries and I don‘t generally discuss my mental issues. I chose to help with the Kokoda trip as a bit of therapy for myself, I suppose to gain a little perspective on how other servicemen are dealing with things.

My discharge and my compensation claim was extremely unfair. I was discharged before my medical treatment was done; mere weeks before my discharge paperwork was sent to me I had been escorted to the base counsellor after an extreme episode. Therefore, in hindsight I was not fit to be released into the world. As for my compensation claim, I was medical 401 discharged due to an injury I sustained while on SAS selection in Perth; the compensation board denied liability for five long years. How can you deny liability for an injury that was sustained on a course for work which the Army then sacked me for? I have kept my PTSD and Chronic Depressive Disorder very quiet, so at this stage it has had minimal effect on my work life; I do find that I have time off on occasion due to ‘not feeling quite right‘, but at this stage my employer is kept very much in the dark and I deal with my issues at home. Well it’s not really fair, but I also don’t want my employer and my work mates thinking that I’m nuts.

I remember a guy that I was serving with at the school of infantry finally lost it; he was taken to hospital and then transferred to the vet hospital at X. I remember when the platoon commander informed me of what had happened, he laughed and proceeded to say ‘for fu*k’s sake, he only served in East Timor; what the fu*k did he see, he’s full of sh*t’. Bearing in mind that this particular platoon commander had never been on operations.

I just went to a counsellor in X because I had had a catastrophic breakdown; I had no idea why, or what was going on. I never thought that it was PTSD so I never really looked for another counsellor. The guy that I talk to is not military but has a lot to do with military patients… I suppose for me what would have helped is some support on discharge; they say there is support, but there isn’t. As soon as you have your discharge papers you are treated like a leper. I had the door slap my butt on the way out. That’s a whole other story...


By way of introduction I was medically discharged from the Army, Military Police with PTSD, depression and eating disorders, and other physical injuries. I joined the Army at 18 after finishing year 12 where I spent the majority of my 15 year career as an MP. I have always considered myself, and been considered, as one of the boys. As a female, in striving for this I worked extra hard to ‘fit in’, or in my case, not stand out. In 200X I was deployed to Iraq where I was positioned at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. We shared a checkpoint with the main casualty hospital in Baghdad, which was at the time the world’s busiest Emergency Department. It was my role to search all females entering the Embassy and hospital, and to assist with the security and control access to the Embassy.

In December 200X I was confronted by a small child, no older than eight years old. She entered the checkpoint on a stretcher. She was badly injured, covered in blood and missing the majority of her legs. The young girl was followed shortly after by her grief-stricken family—her mother, father, uncles and brothers. In broken communication it was my job to tell this grieving mother that her daughter had died and she could not go through to the hospital to be by her side. She wailed, she hugged me, she hit me and she cursed. The body would later be picked up in a child-sized coffin strapped to the roof of a car.

I am now a mother of two small girls and I feel a different pain. I feel guilty and in times of panic and commotion, such as a busy shopping centre, I feel threatened that someone is lurking to take my children from me; I see the face of the father hiding in amongst people in crowded places. In addition to this was an Iraqi contractor who was shot and killed at our checkpoint. His name was Waleed; I made him a coffee every Tuesday when he came to collect our rubbish. We spoke of his wife and three children at home and that he was doing contract work to ‘set them up’. He was shot and killed at our checkpoint for not stopping at a stop sign.

After returning home from Iraq I knew there was something wrong with me. I was withdrawn, not sleeping; I stopped exercising and felt socially numb. I didn’t know I had PTSD but I knew I felt different. Depressed, at times scared, everything back home felt pointless to me now. Why were people whinging about the cost of petrol or that it was too hot outside? The world just didn’t make sense anymore.

When I deployed with SECDET I was considered an ‘attachment’ to 3RAR. I had no one to relate to or ‘debrief‘ with when I returned home. The unit I deployed with were from X. They had each other to talk too, have beers with and just generally be there for one another. I, on the other hand, was from X and I was only one of two females that deployed on that rotation and the other female also returned to X. Instead of a normal post deployment ‘down time’, I was required to fit back in to my unit’s routine.

As my deployment had been over a posting cycle I returned home to no familiar friends or chain of command, no family and in my case, no fiancé; he had just been deployed to East Timor. In hindsight, all huge red flags for a lack of support networks. I was granted and took some post-deployment leave with my family in X. It didn’t take them long to realise that things were not great for me. I ended up in X Hospital under psych care for depression. I was released from there with my unit’s knowledge under the proviso that I be referred to a psychiatrist upon return to X. When I returned to X, I was not well supported and after several trips to the RAP, my wait time to see psychiatrists was going to be six weeks. The medical staff continued to give me sick leave and send me home alone where I continued to self-destruct.

Others had been deployed and been through worse situations than me, so I thought that made me weak. My mind was racing and I was so confused. I was asking for help but no one really seemed to be taking me seriously or truly understanding my pleas. Why did my unit keep accepting my sick leave and sending me home?

I couldn’t take it anymore—in 200X I drove my car into a pole, attempting suicide. The car was written off and I was admitted to X Medical Centre Hospital. I lay in a hospital bed for two weeks. Rather than it being a moment of relief and perspective, I lay there alone. In a hospital bed, with not one visitor. My unit did not tell any of my peers that I was in hospital and, as I had no one I knew in X, it only added to the shame and guilt that I felt. I felt weak and like a burden. As I was in X, I got away with not telling my family or friends what I had done. I was embarrassed. My unit at the time ‘hid me away’, which only added to my guilt and shame. No one was allowed to visit me or even know that I was in hospital. This added to my battle, as no one talked about it.

So this brings me on to stigma which I will go into further, but in 200X it was a huge struggle and battle for me. I fought, hid and kept this secret for almost five years, battling my way through a diagnosis of depression, eating disorders relating to PTSD and of course, PTSD itself. These were some of my darkest days, even after my attempted suicide. My army career had become a medical management plan. Fighting medical discharge, being medically downgraded and upgraded. On and off medication and pending discharge only prolonged by two bouts of maternity leave. Not until 201X when I finally broke down in my boss’s office. In tears, depressed and feeling unsafe, I thought I would be open and honest and tell him that I needed to go to the RAP and get some support. He stood there with me sobbing, and instead of being a human being he told me to take a seat while he looked up the relevant doctrine to see what procedural guidelines he needed to follow. I left and made my own way to the RAP and this was the beginning of the end for me. My medical discharge was imminent.

I was, however, followed up by an email from my boss four days later stating that he had contacted the relevant ‘health care professionals’ and to contact him should I need assistance. Apart from being soldiers, at the core of all of us we are human beings with real human emotions, and in my opinion this gets to the real impact of mental illness. The way in which we are affected by things—our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs which may have caused our depression, PTSD or anxiety. It also can be just as powerful in the way that someone else responds to us. Empathy and understanding. Soldier-to-soldier or peer-to-peer can in our weakest moments be so empowering. Soldiers need to remember they hold a very unique bond and position and that alone, when someone is struggling, can be just enough to encourage them to seek help. So take off the rank. Sit down and put the kettle on and listen. That’s all I ever wanted.

One of the biggest issues that I faced in Defence was management, particularly middle management, not knowing how to handle or deal with mental illness. The truth is, it should be dealt with no differently than any other injury. Management level Corporal through to Major need to make it ‘ok’ to talk about mental health. It’s all well and good having processes in place, but most of these processes make people requiring them feel like they are only to be used if you are struggling or can’t handle it. Programs and support should be a continued ‘wellbeing approach’. Like a BFA [Basic Fitness Assessment] or a peer review. It’s just something that happens. It should just become so normal that no one even thinks twice about it. Going to war is not normal—seeking support for it is!!

It is for this reason that there needs to be more open communication about PTSD and mental health in my opinion, to encourage people to talk openly about it. Make it normal ‘morno’ talk, not a slide show every twelve months. It needs to be personal and it needs to be real. A ‘check in day’ where talking about, or seeking assistance for mental health issues is normalised. I never expected people to know what I was feeling, but I did hope for some understanding. People need to feel it is normal seeking help, not the other way around.

Returning back to PTSD. I don’t have a ‘war hero‘ story. I wasn’t physically injured in battle and yet I was still dealing with all of the issues associated with PTSD and mental health. These couldn’t be seen and were easy to hide. This left me feeling alone and confused; ‘why am I the only one affected by this?‘

‘I must be weak, a typical chick‘ and ‘I can’t let anyone know’.

One of the biggest problems I face is not having any physical injuries. I know that those who have them wouldn’t wish them on their worst enemy, but PTSD can at times seem glorified and I say that with the utmost respect; but too often in the media PTSD is associated with being blown up by an IED or having physical injuries that result from the trauma. For me and many people that I have spoken with, their PTSD is humanitarian based; based on what they have seen, been witness to, or a situation they couldn’t prevent and they have been left feeling helpless and guilty.

I was once interviewed (in-depth) and photographed with [an army colleague] (the Sergeant engineer who lost an eye and an arm in an IED blast). He is a beautiful person and it makes me so angry to hear of his struggles but that’s another story I could go on about. When the story got published it was a really lengthy in-depth story about him. Only him. Yet they used my photo. I didn’t mind that the story was about him, in fact it needed to be told for his sake, but I was so hurt that they used my photo. I may as well have been his girlfriend.

I struggle too. And there are so many like me who do. I have found through my work with Soldier On and RSL Victoria that the different type of soldier plays a key role. ‘Non-combat Role’ soldiers find it very difficult to understand their PTSD because they often don’t have physical injuries or a ‘one off‘ physical event, like an IED or a bomb blast media-hyped stigma. They feel unworthy of the title PTSD. In addition is the combat soldier whose role it is to be ‘in combat‘. They see it as a weakness and struggle to admit they are struggling for fear of their peers and career progression outcomes. ADF members are proud of their jobs and like it or not, are compared to each other—well, if he and I were on the same trip and he’s ok, then there must be something wrong with me. I‘m weak. I‘m useless. I don‘t want to be different. The stigma associated with not just PTSD, but mental illness. The only way it’s going to get better is if more people talk openly about it.

We need a mutual understanding that PTSD is what it is and it affects everyone differently. Comparing our roles in deployment, or whether or not we are worthy of the title of ‘veteran‘ or ‘PTSD‘, is a huge disadvantage we are doing to each other. This has been my main struggle both in and out of Defence; dealing with the ADF and DVA and in conjunction with this, my PTSD has not always manifested typically in accordance with DVA’s SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures]. As a result I suffer from extreme eating disorders, ranging from binge eating, bulimia and anorexia, and I have had to fight every step of the way to have this recognised and funded. DVA also struggle to understand that the dynamic of veterans has changed. We are younger and some of us are female.

Excuse me for generalising, but most men don’t have to worry about the children as it’s normally left to the wife. Well, I am the wife and I struggle daily. My children are currently in day-care four days a week because of me and that is really costly to our family. I need this time to allow me time to go to my appointments and to get through the week. When my children are at home with me, they are housebound and restricted as I lack energy and motivation to entertain them. I struggle each day trying to entertain and keep up with them. I feel everyday that my children are suffering because of me. This weighs heavily on me every day. For me, PTSD has bought into question my parenting and I know having spoken to other female veterans, that mothering is the first thing that comes up as the greatest struggle and it’s something that DVA don’t even have on their radar. Children, especially young girls in my case, don’t understand that their Mum isn’t well, and unlike most men—and forgive me for generalising—it is not their role to keep the household running; they don’t understand when Mum can’t get out of bed to cook dinner or why Mum keeps crying all the time.

I’m having behavioural issues with my daughter at her first year of school and when she tells her teacher that she misses her mummy, I know that my numbness and numerous hospital visits have taken their toll; it’s another layer of mothering that is not acknowledged by anyone. A final addition is a letter I wrote to the CA [Chief of Army] last year. He did respond but I heard nothing more after that.



199X–200X, ARMY Corporal. Yes, I have been diagnosed with PTSD and several friends that I have served with also suffer from it. First felt the symptoms around 200X, but attributed it to posting from Perth to Darwin. Anger started becoming frequent, no patience with my children who were both under four at the time. Went to DCO [Defence Community Organisation] for advice as it was starting to affect my marriage. DCO offered a civilian anger management course which I paid for and attended. At no stage did I tell my unit or RMO of any mental health problems as I did not want to jeopardise my chances of deployment.

After my angry outbursts which at times included emotional and physical abuse to my wife, I would be left with extreme feelings of guilt and would find myself crying for hours. I would then fall into a deep depression often for days. Personally, I was ashamed of my behaviour and would not talk to anyone about my feelings or my relationship with my wife. To this day I still feel embarrassed and ashamed to admit I have PTSD. After discharge I returned to my trade (boilermaker) and I have difficulty holding down employment.

Some leading hands and supervisors I have encountered in my various workshops have resorted to denigrating my service, drawing comparisons between being a boilermaker and an infantry soldier. Comments like ‘I hope you weren’t as slow in the army as you are as a boilermaker, or nothing would have got done’. Maybe they are intimidated or jealous of my service and they think that it will make me work harder or faster. I don’t know, but the outcome is always the same. I ask them politely to not bring my military service into the discussion. They then think that they have found my weak spot and continue to try and exploit it. This ends with me threatening physical violence and harm upon them and then I am taken before the workshop manager and asked to explain my actions, with the leading hand or supervisors saying how I became verbally abusive with no provocation from them at all. On several occasions I then find myself being told that there is not enough work to keep me employed and I no longer have a job. In the majority of cases you are employed as a casual and the employer only has to give you four hours notice. Then you come home angry, upset and wanting to seek retribution at the person who started the whole process.

Since discharge I have had no ongoing relationship with Defence. Contact with DVA is extremely frustrating. You ring up for help and get told to refer to their website. The whole process is very complicated and without the hard work done by advocates, the claim process would have no chance of success as you do not have access to the relevant legislation and DVA’s statement of principles regarding different types of injuries. DVA often sends out the wrong paperwork. I have been accused by DVA of not attending medical appointments and/or not sending paperwork back in. I have been spoken to like I am a complete moron, with utter disregard and contempt. You are made to feel like you are another whinging serviceman out to defraud the system, or a complete bludger who has just suddenly decided to quit work and live off the system.

Several of my veteran friends have even gone as far as to lodge official complaints against the person from DVA who they were speaking to because of the accusations and degrading and insulting manner in which they are being spoken to. You get the feeling that DVA makes the whole process so complicated and drawn out that you will give up out of sheer frustration. In regards to being treated fairly, it is my opinion that DVA looks for the easy option that will save the department money. No regard for the veteran’s personal and family life is taken into account. The stress of the whole process from start to finish is extremely taxing on both the veteran and their family. Often, the easy option taken by DVA results in the veteran and their advocate having to take DVA’s findings and decisions to the Veterans Review Board for appeals, and the veteran being admitted to a psych hospital for further review and also to prove to DVA that your PTSD is real. The cost of this to DVA must be substantial and it seems the only party to benefit from this is the private hospital. During the veteran’s stay in hospital he may be heavily sedated to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD brought on by the bureaucratic red tape.

I understand the need for checks to ensure that people are not defrauding the system, but… you spend countless hours in psychiatrists’ offices reliving the events on operations that lead to PTSD, and with your wife/partner telling the psych the effect of PTSD on the family and in social interactions, and [there is] the physical pain that you live with daily due to soft tissue injuries you sustained during your service, the hearing loss and tinnitus from small arms rifles, the news that one of your mates that you served with has taken his life as he felt that was the last option because a person in DVA decides that he isn’t worth a full pension and only receives $900 per month despite the medical reports saying he will require ongoing medical treatment.

I have not had a lot of contact with community organisations such as Soldier On and Mates for Mates but several of my veteran friends utilise their services and they are excellent according to all reports. I believe a solution to DVA’s problems could be posting still-serving veterans to DVA as a means of respite and also as a point of contact for veterans as they can relate to the veteran making the claim; perhaps even a liaison role to offer a face-to-face meeting to discuss in a non-judgemental way how to go about your claim, and the problems that you may encounter along the way. They could advise you about the advocates that could help you make the claim and all the other volunteers there to make the process easier for you.