Jupes on Veteran suicides: Poor service delivery or poor training?

While the current push for a royal commission into the alarming spate of veteran suicides will most likely result in a big payday for the legal profession, it would probably deliver a negligible result for veterans and a poor result for taxpayers. Alternatively, Mark Latham’s suggestion to appoint Tony Abbott to conduct an enquiry into the suicides has merit and would probably be more beneficial for veterans and taxpayers. Regardless, I fear that whoever is chosen to conduct the enquiry will look primarily at poor service delivery by the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs post deployment, rather than look deeper for the root causes.

So why are contemporary veterans killing themselves at such an alarming rate? To help us answer this we can compare the ADF’s recent record in the Middle East with the Anzacs in WW1. 331,781 men were sent overseas as part of the AIF. Of these, 210,000 or approximately 64.8% men became casualties and 61,519, or approximately 18.5% were killed or died of wounds. In contrast approximately 26,000 ADF personnel have been sent to Afghanistan. Of these less than 302 personnel, or 1.2% became casualties and 41, or 0.16% have been killed. A much smaller contingent served in Iraq with no combat deaths.

According to the newly elected member for Herbert, Phillip Thompson, a former soldier and veteran advocate before he was elected to parliament, the number of suicides among Middle East veterans has now reached 500 and constitutes a crisis. The statistics are stark. The number of veteran suicides is over 10 times the amount of combat deaths over the same period. This comparison is relevant because it shows that the contemporary soldier is far more likely to die from his own hand than that of the enemy. No doubt suicide was an issue for returning Anzacs back in the day but it was never the “crisis” it is now.

That suicide among veterans is more prevalent today appears curious, because there can be no doubt that the Anzacs did it far harder than contemporary veterans, a large portion of whom have never seen a shot fired in anger. The Anzacs had to cope with one in five of their mates being killed, contemporary veterans do not. The Anzacs had to cope with over half of them being wounded, contemporary veterans do not. The Anzacs had to cope with massed artillery, trench warfare, bayonet charges, flame-throwers and poison gas, contemporary veterans do not. The Anzacs had to cope with primitive and slow casualty evacuation, contemporary veterans have helicopters. The Anzacs had to cope with deploying overseas for years without a known date of return to Australia, contemporary veterans deploy overseas for six or eight months, have a fixed return date and regular communication with loved ones at home.

I’ll pause here to acknowledge that each suicide is an individual act with deeply personal reasons for each veteran. I am commentating on the overall trend, not any individual. So why is it that contemporary veterans apparently do not cope with war as well as previous generations?

It is a direct result of the emasculation of the Army.

With the exception of Special Forces, Australia no longer sends soldiers to war, rather, we send civilians with military skills. Since 1985 females have trained alongside male recruits in the Army and standards have lowered considerably to facilitate this. Back in the day when men joined the army, they were taught from day one that their individual aspirations took second place to those of the Army. They had to do any job the Army wanted them to do and go wherever the Army sent them. Training was hard, taught men to kill without hesitation and left them in no doubt about the nature of war. Not anymore. Female recruits can choose when they join, can sign on for half the commitment of male recruits and can even choose the location of their first posting. This from the Army website:

Today’s Army is a modern and forward-thinking organisation. We recognise that all personnel have an equal right to training and opportunities for advancement; and that the desire to raise a family should not impede career development. We offer flexible employment arrangements including part-time work and extended leave to accommodate changes in circumstances.

There you have it. The Army is no longer a war-fighting organisation. Mollycoddling female soldiers is more important than realistic training for war. While not all the benefits mentioned above are available to male recruits, the female-friendly policies have changed the culture of almost the entire ADF (with the exception of SF). Human rights and benevolence are emphasised more than killing the enemy. Victory in war is no longer mentioned and death symbology has been banned. According to the current Chief of the Defence Force, the purpose of the Army is to “employ violence with humility always and compassion where possible.” Compare that claptrap with General Patton’s speech to his 3rd Army prior to the invasion of Europe:

We’re not just going to shoot the bastards, we’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket.

Unfortunately, there is no place for a war-winning general in today’s Army.

Contemporary soldiers are technically proficient at handling military equipment but incapable of coping with the reality of warfare. The exception to this is Special Force units such as SASR, who experienced the most combat in Afghanistan and Iraq but have had few, if any, instances of veteran suicide. Unlike the majority of ADF veterans, those men have been prepared for combat and understand the nature of war.

While the emasculation of the ADF is the primary cause of veteran suicides, there are other contributing factors:

  1. The legalisation of warfare.

For the Anzacs, warfare was a simple albeit dangerous task. Their job was to kill or capture the enemy in order to win the war and they were backed by their leaders and government to achieve this. Military police kept order when the soldiers were on leave but did not police them on the battlefield. Military law was maintained by their commanders and lawyers were not required to investigate soldier’s conduct during combat.

Since then, lawyers have gained a far greater role in the ADF. Military and government leaders are more concerned that soldiers conduct warfare under strict legal rules than they are with such outdated concepts as ‘victory’. For the majority of contemporary veterans, their task on the battlefield isn’t as dangerous as it was for the Anzacs, however killing and capturing the enemy is now far more fraught legally. Soldiers are issued with cards detailing when they can and cannot shoot the enemy. If they get it wrong in the heat of combat, they will draw the attention of the ADF Investigative Service, who will deploy to conduct investigations in country. A new legal position, the Director of Military Prosecutions, was established in 2009 to prosecute Australian soldiers (but with no interest in prosecuting the enemy). Shortly after the DMP was established, two Commandos were investigated and charged with manslaughter in Afghanistan for combat action that in any previous war would not have required legal investigation. The case was thrown out two years later, but the precedence had been set. Soldiers must walk on eggshells in combat, because they now know that their leadership treats the battlefield as a crime scene with Australian soldiers as the only potential criminals. The Brereton inquiry into alleged ‘war crimes’ in Afghanistan, now into its fourth year, is another example of this pathetic legal mindset among military leaders.

  1. The effect of publicity about veteran mental health on job prospects.

ABC hit-jobs on Special Forces aside, the treatment of contemporary veterans by the media and public has largely been sympathetic. This is because of the general tendency to portray all contemporary veterans as victims of war themselves. Stories on veteran’s mental health appear regularly in the media. The number of veteran’s welfare organisations has ballooned and most get regular publicity. This leaves the public with the impression that the majority of veterans have mental health problems, with the result that businesses looking for employees tend not to employ anyone with such baggage.

  1. Government bureaucracy.

The most common complaint from veterans is that they have been denied help by either the Army or DVA after their deployment. This despite the fact that the Army now has more psychiatric support than at any time in its history. Psychological assessment is compulsory for soldiers pre and post deployment. Nevertheless, it would appear that the proliferation of psychiatric support is having limited effect on mental health problems among veterans.

The DVA is a typical bureaucracy in that process seems to trump results in most publicised cases. While we should not forget that it has a responsibility to the taxpayers for the funds it administers, there is undoubtedly room for improvement with its service delivery. No doubt Army and DVA bureaucracy will be the primary subject of any inquiry held into veteran suicide. Providing better services for veterans is a laudable aim, however it will not fix the problem. To do that, the Army must stop behaving like a feminist organisation, revert to training men properly for war, and send all lawyers and investigators home.

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46 Responses to Jupes on Veteran suicides: Poor service delivery or poor training?

  1. stackja

    As I remember the old Repatriation Department didn’t have a good name.
    Regarding today’s soldiers, I don’t know about them. The suggestion about training. WW2 was very tough. Probably upset present day people.

  2. stackja

    I believe most Australian WW1 soldiers were tough because life then was tough.

  3. mareeS

    RIP, boys.

    Fortunately my husband, father of our children, is still here despite DVA and Army, and private psychs.

    He and I are basically never surrender types with rock solid support.

    Something in the system is failing these vets, just as it failed some of my husband’s mates after Vietnam.

    We have gone through this over decades, and it is so sad nothing has changed, despite what the military and DVA pretend.

  4. stackja

    AIF came back from ME and was sent to Canungra. As I remember the Canungra training was referred to later as more intense then actual battle. To me Marise Payne does not inspire confidence.

  5. Tator

    After a career in law enforcement, I have been privy to research that suggests that both the military and emergency services are occupations which see things the human psyche is incapable of dealing with on far too regular occasions. As one of my friends from the job has said whilst being treated for a fatal police shooting that occurred decades ago. PTSD treatment is can be equated to learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg as the mind is permanently damaged by being involved with such major trauma.
    There is also further research that claims that PTSD can be suffered through continual exposure to more minor traumatic events as well as being exposed to major trauma.
    Some people just have better coping mechanisms than others but the big issue is that even with the best coping mechanisms, there is still significant psychological damage done to every individual.

  6. mareeS

    stackja, When my husband and his mates went through Canungra after infantry training, they later said it was their introduction to manhood and determination not to fail. He has been a pretty determined bugger all his adult life, what didn’t kill him, etc. it makes him a good person.

  7. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Female recruits can choose when they join, can sign on for half the commitment of male recruits and can even choose the location of their first posting. This from the Army website:

    Anyone seen the new recruiting slogan? Something like “My Army lets me spend more time with my kids?”

  8. Veterans suicide because of a whole bunch of things. Some due to a single thing, others due to a combination.
    Jupes and commenters have mentioned some of them, like the softening of our culture (especially men, some of whom would not have even seen a fist fight let alone been in one before joining the army).
    The softening of our military may also be a contributing factor.
    I’ll add one thing to Jupes paragraph on RULES of ENGAGEMENT. It’s not just about rules during fire fights. It’s rules regarding engagement with the locals.
    Our soldiers would have witnessed first hand some horrific behaviour by the locals but were forbidden from interfering. Look up Bacha Bazi and the American soldier prosecuted for trying to stop nightly r ape s of little boys.
    I’d imagine some inner struggle occurs after not helping the helpless.

    PTSD seems to be the oft sited cause.
    One thing I’ll say about PTSD. It’s not just caused by soldiers witnessing traumatic incidence. It’s also caused by soldiers doing things that they never thought they were capable of.

  9. min

    From memory , PT SD was only put in DSM ( can’t remember what number it was back then ) in the 80s .
    I had clients that had PTSD triggered by another event and believe that those who had earlier traumas were more likely to not cope with later traumas .
    Back then the Vietnam vets seemed to suffer more than previous wars,however the differences in the style of war , the terrible treatment they received when they returned all added to the5 problem.
    Francine Shapiro came out to Australia to train us in EMDR , this was a therapy that had had great success with Viet vets in the States . Remember a lot of them just went bush and could not integrate back into normal life. Not too nmany psychiatrists and psychologuists trained in this therapy even though research at Harvard was carried out and a professor came here to present the results . It was now being used on all trauma victims not only war vets. PET scans before and after tratment showed differences in brains reaction to triggers . It seemed to lose fashion here but note it is now being used with paramedics.
    Re Veteran Affairs , they did not pay full frees for service probably still happens which maybe why they cannot get treatment . I volunteered my time for the difference but not sure whether too many psychs would do this psychiatrist can bulk bill and are so busy these days doling out medications that they do not do much therapy, so I have been told.

  10. Muddy

    Congratulations on tackling a tough topic, Jupes.

    While I don’t disagree that there appears to have been – from the perspective of an outsider – an oversized emphasis on social engineering, and on management rather than leadership, it is difficult to to interpret that figure of 500 suicides without knowing more of the details.

    It cannot be automatically interpreted that their military experience was the primary factor in their suicide, and suicide rates broadly, are higher than most people realise, especially among males. How does this rate compare with other occupations, say farmers, construction workers, people in the financial industry?

    I’m also not sure how much relevance your comparison with the statistics of the Great War has for the considerably changed social and cultural circumstances of life one century later, though I understand the intent may have been to place the more recent stats in a historical context.

    Dr. Martyr, if she is lurking, may have something to input in regards to her studies.

    With many of the WWII personnel files available online via the National Archives, it is interesting when one comes across diagnoses among the documentation of an individual regarding what was recorded broadly as neurosis prior to that individual experiencing combat. In other words, a psychiatric condition the individual possessed prior to enlistment. The question is: Is it possible to diagnose an existing mental health challenge, or the potential for one to occur, during the enlistment process?

    I wonder if the feminisation of the ADF is a separate, though related topic, rather than a causative element?

    None of my statements above are intended as criticism, and I commend you again for broaching a very worthwhile subject.

  11. Peter Greagg

    Hey Jupes, thanks for the statistical comparison between killed and casualties of both the WW1 and presnt day Army. Very eye-opening.
    Not sure about your conclusion, though I have no contra-evidence.
    Not having a go, as they say.

  12. candy

    Maybe it is that some men joining the Services already have emotional or mental problems from various things (that some other young people suffer in civilian life, life is stressful enough these days – family breakdown, drug use, depression) and joining up seems like a good way to sort things out but the stress of the military experience has made it worse.
    Basically a pre-existing condition.

  13. jupes

    How does this rate compare with other occupations, say farmers, construction workers, people in the financial industry?

    This from 3 yr old stats:

    National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: 2018 update

    From 2001 to 2016, there were 373 suicides in serving, ex-serving and reserve Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel. Compared with all Australian men, the age-adjusted rate of suicide over the period was 51% lower for men serving full time in the ADF, 47% lower for men in the reserves and 18% higher for ex-serving men. In 2014–2016, ex-serving men aged under 30 had a suicide rate 2.2 times that of Australian men the same age.

    If Phillip Thompson’s claim of 500 suicides is correct, it would seem that the suicide rate has increased over the last three years.

  14. old bloke

    Good post Jupes, thanks. I think earlier generations were more stoic. Both of my grandfathers fought in France and Belgium in WWI and experienced the horrors of that conflict first hand. They returned to Australia at the end, donned their suits & overalls, and just returned to work. They never spoke of what they experienced to their wives and children, yet years later they would speak openly about what they experience to their grandchildren.

    The WWII vets were also a tough lot, Dad served in PNG and Borneo (RAAF) and it didn’t mark him in any way psychologically. One of our neighbours wasn’t so lucky, he’d get very depressed and his wife would ask Dad to go and keep him company. His condition was understandable, he spent the whole of WWII in Changi.

    The question shouldn’t be, why the high number of suicides, but how has stoicism disappeared from the Australian makeup?

  15. Tintarella di Luna

    Hi jupes thanks for talking about this terrible scourge — my older son is very interested in the use of psychedelics in the treatment of those suffering psychological trauma and has been talking to me about work being done in the US for suffers of PTSD by an organisation called MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) – do you know much about such treatment for veterans who have PTSD — this is an article I found

  16. Viva

    I believe most Australian WW1 soldiers were tough because life then was tough.

    Took the words right out of my mouth.

    In every sphere of life, men and women both were too engaged in surviving to take time out for mental meltdowns. They were expected to get on with it and they did. For example women took miscarriages more in their stride unlike today because they had the other kids and the old man to look after.

    Stoicism was part of the culture.

  17. Roger

    I wonder how this phenomenon relates to the decline in Christian belief and practice and over the 100+ years since WWI? Given that religious beliefs are known to promote psychological resilience that seems to me to be a question worthy of research.

    That aside, I note my oldest son was recently issued with a DVA “white card” to cover treatment for any mental health issues arising after an overseas deployment, and this was without any medical or psychiatric examination being carried out. Is this a recent practice and is it in response to this crisis? Presumably so.

  18. jupes

    do you know much about such treatment for veterans who have PTSD

    Sorry Tinta, no. I haven’t heard of it in Australia.

  19. Muddy

    ex-serving men aged under 30 had a suicide rate 2.2 times that of Australian men the same age.

    Please do not interpret my picking apart of statistics as an attempt to downplay the issue, which is one I have an interest in, though not in regards specifically to defence. Neither do I have a reason to doubt Mr. Thompson. However my interpretation of the above is that a particular sub-group – ex-ADF males under the age of 30 – is being compared with the overall male statistics, all ages, occupations, and other differentiations. I wonder what rates of suicide ex police officers have? Do ex-ADF males over the age of 30, having had more experience in the role, and more life experience, have the same or similar rates of suicide?

    How much might the challenges of reintegration into the civilian world contribute? Would this depend, in terms of civilian employment, on the individual’s employment role while serving? At about the time of the last federal election, a W.A. Cat told of a young ex-soldier living in his car in the parking lot of the voting station. We didn’t get told any other details, but one wonders what combination of circumstances lead to this outcome.

    How much might the general attack on masculinity beyond the ADF contribute to individuals needing assistance not wanting to ask for the same, or feeling as though they would be further demonised if they did so? It is my perception that males in general are considered to have less ‘value’ now; less to offer. Like non-military males who retire after an active life and find themselves wondering about their purpose and worth now they are not ‘needed’ for anything. Nobody likes a soldier until the enemy is at the gate, right? Then afterwards, once you’ve done what we want you to do, what we are unwilling to do ourselves, bugger off and keep quiet about it?

  20. Tintarella di Luna

    Given that religious beliefs are known to promote psychological resilience that seems to me to be a question worthy of research.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his Gulag Archipelago observed that those who had strong religious faith were able to survive far better than those who only believed in the State. Also read the story of Maximilian Kolbe to see the strength that faith gives when all seems lost.

    I am grateful for my religious faith it has helped me so much in difficult times.

  21. Roger

    Thank you for the reminder of Solzhenitsyn’s observation, Tinta.

  22. Paul farmer

    I think this piece is a great contribution to the debate as there is far more to this story then the narrative the msm are running with . We need to train our soldiers to be soldiers , and equip them mentally to withstand the ferocity of battle and loss and the mental anguish that follows them in consequence for their whole life . The millitary is not a social engineering experiment as it has become and as the author points out . There’s no easy solutions here to this as war has always been the true necessary evil of this world particularly if you want to defend certain things that are worth fighting for . In my view we need to prepare a pathway for these people over their lifetime . If someone is strong enough and brave enough to wear our uniform and defend our democracy then our nation owes them ( not the bureaucrats hanging around the edges ) a debt for life and the respect that goes with that.

    I would be interested to know how our suicide rates compare with other nations like the US and the Uk ?

    As a freedom loving democracy if our nation doesn’t have the resolve to train and keep a military that is not only physically but mentally tough enough to defend our democracy , I will tell you there is nothing more certain than one day , maybe not for a long time , but one day it will be all be taken from us , history has taught that lesson over and over again . With China arming itself up and being more aggressive in their aspirations you’re a true fool if you think we can be relaxed about the need for an effective military in the coming century that if required is a killing machine not a Pc machine .

  23. Muddy

    Adding to Paul Farmer’s last paragraph above: a strong, effective military does not always have to be used. In some situations, it is enough for an opponent or potential opponent, to believe that we will use what we have, and conclude that the costs of taking us on will outweigh the investment. It’s called deterrence.

  24. The stats for the US are pretty grim as well.

    I’ve served in two militaries (Army – overseas, Air Force – Australia), though never saw combat. However, I do have experience with our Department of Veterans Affairs and their aim is to fight any and every claim till the very end.

    A $1000 claim of mine over a service injury went to the High Court before DVA eventually lost the case and paid for all the expenses. Both the initial Administrative Appeals Tribunal judge (where I won the case self-representing) and the High Court judge (being represented) were gobsmacked that DVA had pursued such an insignificant claim to these ends.

    Just imagine what those who are far, far, worse off have to go through dealing with DVA who don’t give a rat’s arse about veterans and where their prime objective is to save as much money as possible and never admit any liability. Their motto is ‘Never Surrender’.

  25. None

    Sometimes soldiers sail through an event that you would think could potentially trigger PTSD but the PTSD doesn’t surface until many many years later after a reasonably trivial event. In the case of some older veterans that I know they suppressed any reaction to their original trauma out of fear of losing positions or being discharged only to break down years laterms after something trivial. It’s like it has a cumulative effect. I actually don’t think the experts really understand PTSD or why some people are prone to it and why others are not. But it is particularly important that soldiers are not lied to about the nature of Warfare and that they are well trained both mentally and spiritually as well as physically for its demands. (This is why even chaplains are very important and why I detest these assholes like that fraud who pretends to pray with dying people in a hospital is demanding through the ahrc that he be allowed to be an army Chaplain). But more than that it is vitally important that the wider community supports them when they return from active service and/or when they are discharged as they reintegrate into civilian life. I’m not talking about treating them like babies but acknowledging and respecting their service as well as their skills. Also not expecting them to return to civilian life from the battlefield within a day or so. In the past when you had a six-week Voyage Home which gave you a bit of time to reflect and wind down and debrief with your mates but these days you can have soldiers leaving the battlefield to fly home for some R&R. From bullets to bathroom renovations in 24 hours can’t be healthy.
    There is another hypothesis which I’d like to see tested and eliminated as a potential Factor if possible. There are many broken families now with children growing up without fathers and a lot of them, particularly from regional areas, join the army. The army is sometimes seen as a bit of a welfare ticket and those who join are rarely prepared for its real demands ( including long periods of excruciating boredom).

  26. BrettW

    A very good post Jupes

    Over the years I have met many ADF veterans. One of the first I met was highly regarded in a field outside the Army. Whilst I knew he was in the Army when I met him it was only years later, after he was medically discharged, did I learn he was in Rwanda. I have not seen him for a long time now but have heard from others that he is not well at all and basically rarely leaves his house. Baa Humbug mentioned rules of engagement above. Whilst I can claim no personal experience I would imagine the Keho massacre scenario and being unable to act to save civilians would be more difficult than if they had engaged in an actual firefight.

    For those interested in Rwanda the book Shake hands with the devil is well worth a read. Written by the Canadian General in charge of the mission. Just incredible what he went through on the ground and dealing with UN HQ. Crap troops, poor equipment, no support. The Belgian Paras basically abandoned him overnight after some were killed. An incoming Canadian Colonel described his as like a zombie by the time he arrived to join the mission. He suffered extreme PTSD.

    On the other hand the first Vietnam vet I ever met seemed to have no issues at all. He put it down to the fact he left Oz two weeks after coming back and working overseas for 5 years. He was single and did a lot of travel. In later life he said his local RSL offered to guide him to say suffering PTSD so he could claim various benefits. He declined and said he would only do so if he reached point where he actually needed help.

    The number of people trying to claim they are PTSD seems to be a problem. I have seen plenty of stories where I have thought, based on role and location, how could they have problems ? One was in the paper several years ago and was a cook in Vietnam. He was turned down. I once met a Navy veteran who served on HMAS Brisbane and seriously tried to tell me how much danger he was in and equal to an infantryman. The more trying to get the benefits the less resources for those who really need it and increased processing times.

    I think there are major issues and resentment related to preference given to women going overseas often without being qualified properly compared to the males.

    The focus is not on the mission but keeping people happy whether it be “diverse” people and females. If a female is treated differently because they have a family and kids then the single white male is the one who is going to fill the gaps when the unit is short due to family demands of a female.

    I don’t have much faith in the Defence Minister despite her military service. She is full on for the women in combat scenario when reality is a man is going to be better at killing another man than a female. This has resulted in the scenario where they are introducing women into battalions where not suitable. However good luck to the males who speak up.

  27. Shy Ted

    If you’re going to put good people in harm’ way they need to be able to defend themselves in a normal manner. With all the rules and restrictions we see the military and police are subject to, they are unable to “defend” themselves until the threat is imminent. That’s not normal so you get an abnormal outcome -PTSD. Remember the footage of the Melbourne knife and car on fire terrorist where he was allowed to chase the police and he mustn’t be killed at any cost. Completely abnormal behavior, should have been shot immediately. And reviews and evaluations further disempower the good guys. The next time you go into “battle” you go in anxious rather than confident because you know the powers that be don’t have your back. It really does exist and the system really does make it worse.

  28. RobK

    Good post Jupes. I believe public attitude to returnees also plays a role.

  29. Tim Neilson

    A friend of mine was a colonel in the ADF medical corps who served in Rwanda. She said that the ADF are now starting to examine why some people in a unit that’s experienced something horrific cope well while others melt down – i.e realising that soldiers don’t go into combat as a blank canvas but take all their previous life into the situation with them.

    That’s congruent with a lot of the comments in this thread. I suspect that the truth includes a lot of what’s been mentioned.

    I do think that, not only is life inherently easier these days than it was for past generations, but the system is designed to train males into being softcock funboys rather than men. Fortunately the training fails in most cases, but no doubt it still has an effect.

    This isn’t new. Back in the 1950’s Joy Davidman wrote in “Smoke on the Mountain”:
    “We do not make a better world by training the fight out of our little boys; we only make a more cowardly one – a world of murderees inviting the murderer.”

    If it was discernible in the 1950’s , how much worse has it got since? “Safe Schools”, anyone?

  30. Old Surfie

    Had a similar experience to you BrettW – met a Vietnam Vet whilst working a few years ago. Regaled me with stories of how his traumatic war experiences had effected his life, marriage etc – all whilst battling PTSD. Checked him out on Nominal Roll of Vietnam Veterans and found he was a cook on HMAS Sydney.
    My grandfather was First AIF – served 1914- 1918, Gallipoli, France and Belgium. My old man was Second AIF – served 1939-1945, North Africa, New Guinea and Borneo. Other than both of them liking the grog a bit too much, they got on with their lives on return to Australia – had steady jobs and raised families. Spoke little of their wars, both never marched on Anzac Day nor wore their service medals.
    Both refused any government help – my grandad never went anywhere near the old Repatriation Dept despite wounding received on Gallipoli and later in France. The old man refused any assistance from Veterans Affairs when dying with cancer – paid for all his own treatment. I can still see the poor old bugger struggling to pull himself out of his old Torana after his weekly treatment – could have been transported to and from hospital in chauffeur driven Comcar if he had chosen.
    Have to agree with other posters – they were definitely a far different generation of men. I’m writing this from my little place I own in the Somme where I spend 6 months of the year. Very happy here in the company of our WW1 diggers that never made it home. I’m about 2km from Pozieres where we suffered some 23,000 casualties in July-August 1916.

  31. Muddy

    A few years ago now, I was lucky to have an in-depth conversation with one of the company commanders involved in the Battle of Long Tan (Vietnam). We talked about his wider military service, and though he would not have confided in me, a stranger, about any mental health issues if he had had any, he was still contributing to his community, locally, via veteran’s organisations, and politically also. While Vietnam was his first experience of combat, he’d served in the CMF prior to that, under the command of a grizzled and sometimes intimidating former WWII veteran who expected, and received, a lot from his subordinates. It’s only my speculation, but I would guess that this preparation had an influence on what followed, though of course pre-military experiences would have also.

  32. Pedro the Ignorant

    A couple of the grizzled old fellas that lean on the bar Friday nights at my local pub are Vietnam veterans.

    I would never have known of their history except when I went along to the Anzac Day march in town and these two blokes dressed in suits with an array of medals leading the march down the main street.

    To say I was astonished is an understatement.

    Chatting with one of them later, I found out he had been in the battle of Coral Balmoral in 1968 on the front line with 3rd Royal Australian Regiment and had, after 50 years, been awarded a Unit Gallantry Medal, the other had been a combat engineer who detected and disabled landmines for Infantry units.

    It is a national disgrace that hard, hard, men like this were shunned and abused by anti war mongrels for years after they returned home instead of receiving the honour and respect that they fully deserved.

  33. Beertruk

    Well done Jupes. Bloody good article. I have to admit that my dealings with DVA have ranged from the ridiculous to being very helpful. On the ridiculous, I went through my 20 years of med docs and found injuries long forgotten, mostly when I was at Kapooka. When I put the claims in, DVA wanted statements from witnesses 20 years previously. (I told the GP who helped me a few years ago with the DVA assessments this story and he said that a patient of his had been captured in Singapore by the Japanese in WW2 and later been sent to Japan to work in the coal mines as slave labour. His patient had been hit on the head with a shovel by a Korean guard and started suffering headaches years later. DVA’s answer to the WW2 Vet was he had to go and get a witness statement from someone that had seen what happened. Un fricken believable. ) On the helpful side of DVA, I ended up with a smashed knee doing PT in 1988, which resulted in three arthroscopies over the years. After the Army I worked for a Defence contractor for 13 years before a forced redundancy. I applied for more than a few jobs, got one interview and told the truth about my ‘retarded knee’ and that it was looked after by DVA. I got a ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I was talking to DVA about my white card for my knee and mentioned about the jobs I had applied for as well as the interview I had and was told that I should apply for a full TPI pension and a Gold Card and they would send out the relevant paperwork. After jumping through the hoops (so to speak) with what they wanted on the paperwork, it all worked out.

  34. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Well done Jupes. Bloody good article. I have to admit that my dealings with DVA have ranged from the ridiculous to being very helpful.

    I would urge anyone, dealing with D.V.A., to contact your State R.S.L. They have professional pensions and welfare advocates on their staff, and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, you don’t have to be a member. Warning though, they do check your details of service…

  35. Tel

    I would say the average Australian in 1914 lived a physically tougher life generally than the average Australian does today, but at the same time today we are under more stress from a bunch of new problems that were not so prevalent in 1914:
    * Today we are drowning in bullshit … from every direction, especially raining down from above. You have to double-think everything you hear, and no one gives you a straight answer.
    * When we were part of the British Empire we had simplicity and moral certainty, we knew what we stood for and why. Some of that might have been colonialism, but at the time we never sat around doubting ourselves. You won’t find many winners in history who start from the premise, “I’m no good, I don’t deserve to win, I should apologize for everything.”
    * The lawyers are not only inside the military, they are into all industries as well. These are not even real lawyers and real courts … this is administrative tribunal stuff where it’s designed to inflict a long, hard and ridiculously complex process on whoever happens to transgress some unfathomable rules that don’t even get applied in a consistent manner.

    I’ve said it before, but we are victims of our own success … a people in search of a purpose.

  36. None

    I don’t want to denigrate our World War 1 veterans but please don’t lionise them to the point of superhumanity. Those of you who still remember (great) grandfathers who served in the Great War would know it just was not the done thing in their generation to complain about the war and many suffered tremendously in silence.

  37. None

    Many years ago I briefly worked with a Canadian born U.S. Vietnam vet. He was a total mess in many respects but he was quite open about his experience and grateful to be alive. He said that when he realised he was going to be drafted he asked to join the Marines figuring they would give him the best training and hence the best chance of surviving. He thought it the best decision he ever made in his life even though combat totally screwed him in the head.

  38. A woman at DVA rejected a claim of mine but wrote for me to phone her with any questions.

    I rang and found that “Cynthia” was a male who wore a dress to work.

    Got nowhere so asked the RSL for advice.

    Two RSL “experts” visited my town reeking of alcohol at 10 AM.

    They told me just forget it and get on with my life.

    I took the matter to the AAT where the DVA barrister LIED.

    Fortunately my lawyer was awake and exposed the lie.

    Thanks to him DVA was forced to accept my injury claim.

  39. Rockdoctor

    BrettW
    #3049679, posted on June 22, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    Friend of mine who has just discharged as a SNCO has been deployed 6 times, he missed out on Somalia & Rwanda being Brisbane based at the time but posted to Townsville after Rwanda & the delinking of 2/4 RAR. I know he has demons cause I saw the same thing in my dad & uncles from Vietnam service. Some of his mates are Rwanda vets, one even at Kibeho and I heard a few stories once on ANZAC Day at the Thuringowa RSL. I don’t blame these guys for being on TPI pensions, though quite a few still work one is a dragline operator for BHP.

    As for DVA most have told me the worst part is getting claims accepted, once accepted they all reckon DVA is good. As for Phil Thompson sorry till he starts delivering well, he is part of the party that tightened up all the rules in 2004 with the MRC Act that most Vet’s believe sold out younger Vet’s. My friend believes if the they ditched MRCA (or DRCA whatever it is called now) while keeping some of the better parts of it and merging it with the better parts of the previous SRCA & VEA there would be much better outcomes for Veterans. There is a lot of resentment at Governments by Vet’s, especially when they see largesse handed out to illegal immigrants sometimes from the very places they were fighting…

  40. Willtheaxe

    Neil Foster wrote “Manslaughter in the Workplace”. The unlawful actions of DVA towards DVA claimants needs to be investigated.

  41. J.H.

    Because our ADF is now a volunteer organization, there is a major difference in the people that make up the Veterans of yesteryear’s conscription armies and the veterans of today…. That and the type of war and the reasons for those wars.

    So the people attracted to our volunteer Peacetime military are of a specific mindset. They are more about wanting to “Help” people, while a military is really about killing people and being in places where people are killing people.

    I would suggest that much of the mental disturbance comes from this unrealistic pursuit for life meaning by empathetic people in a profession that is the opposite to what they expected…..

  42. Vicki

    Thank you so much for this post, Jupes. It explored many of the issues with the ADF that we have all worried about for some time.

    The recent undermining of our Special Forces through the leaked material re ongoing investigations for war crimes has especially concerned me. Since the Nuremberg Trials I believe that modern military protocol imposes impossible rules of engagement in such theatres of war as in the Middle East, for example, where the enemy are not similarly constrained. These protocols should be revised – but I doubt that this is plausible in the PC society of the West today.

    I concur wholeheartedly with the comments of Baa Humbug, Min & None in respect to PTSD. Although some studies indicate some development of 1 in 7 combatants, PTSD seems to vary enormously from person to person.

  43. Percy Popinjay

    Great stuff, jupes.

  44. Knuckle Dragger

    Fantastic post, jupes. Really well thought out and presented.

    And the subject matter is excellently fleshed out in the comments to date.

  45. Lawrence Ayres

    An excellent article. I have one observation to make. At the end of WWI the men deployed in France and the Middle East did not return immediately to Australia and in some cases waited nearly a year to come home. In any case they returned via a six week boat trip which aided the return to normal from people hyped to the max in the last days of the war. They had a cooling down period and no doubt some instruction as to return to a civilian life. These days the soldiers are expected to be killing the enemy on Thursday and playing with their children on Saturday. Their mates have gone their various ways and nobody at home can visualise let alone understand what their man has experienced. One of the problems with no conscription is very few politicians, journalists and medical professionals let alone relations have any idea what their soldier has experienced so find it impossible to relate. Maybe the DVA should be manned by ex servicemen exclusively.

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