At least 15 ex-servicemen have committed suicide since Christmas in the terrible hidden toll of war.

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Not my usual post, but something I am very passionate about.  So much so that I am attending the National Suicide Prevention Conference in a few weeks’ time, although I won’t be speaking or presenting anything at it.

The amount of both serving and ex serving members of the Aust. Defence Force that struggle with this daily is staggering; having personally buried quite a few as well.  This particular article focus’s predominantly on the Army.  There are many many Airmen and Sailors that are in similar positions; myself being amongst them.

From the perspective of a writer,  my service is a topic that I will never write about; regardless of the amount of requests I have had made to me.

The most important thing for the world in general is to realise that if you ever have a concern about ANYONE, act immediately, even if it turns out you have got it all wrong, that is inconsequential when compared to inaction, and the ensuing loss of life as a result.

The photograph above is what an incredibly unwell and suicidal serviceman looks like; he even failed a few times as he couldn’t get it together enough to be successful.  It’s so easy to spot isn’t it?  Click that picture of the RAN chap with his daughters after reading the article below.

Hamish

Read on.

At least 15 ex-servicemen have committed suicide since

Christmas in the terrible hidden toll of war

Australian Digger

No records are kept of suicides after soldiers return from warzone.

A GOLD Card for a troubled soldier to cover the cost of his medical expenses for life was issued the day after he committed suicide last year.

The Digger had returned from a deployment where he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as physical injuries.

His widow declined a request for an interview with the Herald Sun, and asked that the Digger’s name not be published.

But it has been claimed his ongoing battle with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to be upgraded from a White Card – which offers only a limited form of medical cover – compounded his PTSD.

The revelation emerged as a Herald Sun investigation found the veterans community in Brisbane is reeling from 11 suicides since Christmas, including former soldiers returned from Somalia, Rwanda, Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

They take them away, they break them, then they give them back to us

Two ex-servicemen from Victoria, one from Sydney and one from Western Australia are also known to have taken their lives since the start of the year.

Veterans’ advocates say the tragic tally is a fraction of a hidden blight unrecorded by authorities and highlights serious inadequacies in the DVA’s bureaucratic claims process, which often stretches veterans’ battles for compensation out to two years.

The DVA keeps no figures on suicides of past servicemen and women. It told the Herald Sun that it “aims to deal with all claims as efficiently as possible to ensure minimal impact on the individual”.

Do we do enough to look after our war veterans? Vote now and have your say

But another widow who lost her ex-Digger husband to suicide said resources to support ex-soldiers were insufficient. Once soldiers such as her husband left the defence force, they became lost souls, she said.

“They take them away, they break them, then they give them back to us,” the widow said.

The Herald Sun is aware of one compensation case, still unresolved after six years, of a veteran paratrooper of 24 years with PTSD; in another case it took four years to reach resolution in the favour of an ex-soldier.

The concerning state of veterans’ post-war battles comes as it also can be revealed:

DOCTORS who treat ex-soldiers for mental illness report only 10 per cent of their patients have a smooth experience through the DVA compensation process.

VETERAN support groups are bolstering advocate numbers to handle what they believe will be a deluge of claims for compensation, as veterans of recent conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq start to emerge with chronic mental illnesses.

BETWEEN 10-20 per cent of claims for PTSD are turned down initially, but advocates claim 95 per cent of those are approved after appeal to the Veterans Review Board, tribunals and courts.

A VICTORIAN soldier monitoring real-time video from drones on a high-definition screen at a control room in Afghanistan saw two of his mates killed in action, but the DVA refused PTSD status on a technicality – a decision later overturned on appeal.

Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association advocate Michael Quinn said veterans’ psychological illnesses often worsened when they were rejected for valid claims.

“On the other side, with a pension or a Gold Card, they often become extremely reclusive and the downhill run is pretty much already started because of what the DVA have put them through,” Mr Quinn said.

He said the number of cases going to the Veterans Review Board had increased due to budget cutbacks and hasty decisions at the first point of call in the DVA.

“Soldiers who come from a high-discipline, high-performing job like service in conflict find it hard to line up with people at Centrelink for money. It’s demoralising for them.”

Queensland psychiatrist Dr Andrew Khoo treats veterans almost daily. He said the process for making a PTSD claim could be a bureaucratic maze that had become more complicated in the past decade.

“Rather than the onus being on DVA to find out if people are not telling the truth, it seems that like the onus is on the guys to prove that they are not lying,” Dr Khoo said.

“This is the opposite to how it should be.”

Brisbane-based military compensation lawyer Brian Briggs, of Slater & Gordon, represents dozens of Diggers with disputed PTSD claims.

“The DVA is under-resourced and I’m seeing a blowout in the time for claims to be accepted,” Mr Briggs said.

Delays had a direct bearing on the treatment options and mental wellbeing of clients left in limbo.

Another psychiatrist, who asked not to be named, said servicemen and women caught in limbo waiting to be discharged from the military could turn to drugs and alcohol to fill a void that often ran to a year or more.

“The military has not provided a system to know what to do with them in that time,” he says.

This view is supported by Angela Smith, widow of Darren Smith, who was killed in an IED blast in June 2010.

A friend of many troubled Afghanistan veterans, she said the military had a “responsibility to tackle PTSD head on” – in individual cases – “instead of letting it come to them when it gets to breaking point”.

The issue isn’t going to go away.

Dr Khoo said almost 70,000 troops had been deployed since Timor. “I wonder if DVA is going to be prepared for what’s coming,” he said.

The Australian Defence Force pointed to its suicide prevention and mental health screening programs designed to help curb suicide rates of its forces.

Originally published as The terrible hidden toll of war

Click the picture of the bloke in white.

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