Honouring Defence personnel: words versus actions

A piece in The Australian states that our Defence Force is “losing its new soldiers, sailors and pilots at an accelerating rate, with more than one in five army recruits quitting in the first 12 months.”

As well continuing difficulties with retention, we are also falling short in initial recruitment numbers. No doubt there are many reasons why this is so, but I am convinced that a key one is our continuing failure to properly assist service men and women who are harmed in the course of their service – whether it be in warzones or within Australia. I have written about this before. While there will always be some mistakes made, it seems to me that serious failures continue to happen far too often.

The following story that appeared in News Limited papers on Anzac Day is another simply terrible example.

Geffrey Gregg didn’t die in Afghanistan, but his family believe the horrors of that war cost his life. The Gregg family from Ballarat in Victoria will gather in Sydney to remember a son and brother whose tragic death has left the tight-knit family deeply scarred and desperate for answers. For the first time since Geffrey committed suicide in Perth last September, his father Phil Gregg, mum Chris, sister Rebecca and grandmother Stella have spoken publicly about the tragedy.

Geff Gregg joined the army in March 2000 and was discharged as medically unfit in May 2004. The young signaller, or chook, from the 152 Signal Squadron, attached to the SAS, served in Afghanistan in 2002 and was a member of an ill-fated SAS patrol designated Redback Kilo Three.

Geff was not a qualified SAS soldier and was the youngest and least trained member of the poorly led patrol involved in a controversial fire-fight that left at least 11 Afghan villagers dead.

When he returned to Australia, Signaller Gregg was a changed man, according to his mum Chris.

“His eyes used to sparkle, but they had turned grey,” she said. “He had lost his spirit and become very cold.”

In fact the proud soldier who loved the army was suffering from physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Geff was discharged from Perth’s Hollywood hospital in early 2004 without the family or his GP being notified. “We still don’t know who did that,” Phil said.

The Gregg family is not seeking compensation, but they want the Government to establish a formal inquiry into Geff’s treatment and his death to help prevent the same thing happening to someone else’s son or daughter.

His story is also told in a recent issue of Time. An independent inquiry would be desirable, despite the feeling that it could be ‘just another inquiry’, following on from many others, while similar incidents seem to keep happening.

When a service man or woman experiences neglect in a time of serious need, often their families that can bear the brunt almost as much. And many of them then make it known loud and clear that they wouldn’t recommend a career in the services to anyone. Similarly, every service person who sees something like this happen to a colleague has a big incentive to get out before something happens to them.

I just cannot see how this doesn’t have a huge impact on our inability to meet targets for recruitment or retention.

Speaking of drawn out inquiries and battles for justice, I also received an email containing a media release by lawyers acting for people involved in the Voyager/Melbourne disaster, which occurred in 1964 with the loss of 82 lives – our worst peacetime military incident, yet rarely formally acknowledged by the government. I met a veteran of this disaster at a veterans’ forum last week who reminded me that litigation was still ongoing, something which is almost impossible to believe.

A copy of the media release follows:

ANZAC DAY is a poignant reminder of the past. Australia’s largest naval peacetime disaster is a memory the Federal Government prefers to forget. On 10 February 1964 the 22,000 tonne aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne sliced the destroyer HMAS Voyager in half, with the loss of 82 lives. The collision shocked the nation and led to two Royal Commissions.

On Anzac Day 1994 the then Labour Government agreed to establish a mediation scheme for crew members of HMAS Voyager. To this day, the Federal government has ruthlessly fought claims for compensation on behalf of HMAS Melbourne crew members. Very few of those men will march tomorrow. They suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and avoid reminders or triggers of the horrible disaster when 82 young men needlessly went to a watery grave. In 1982 the litigation battle commenced and this saga continues today with 48 claims still proceeding through the courts.

The Australian Government Solicitors first argued that it was unconstitutional to sue. Then they argued proceedings were issued in the wrong court. Next, they argued that post traumatic stress disorder was not a condition which existed in 1964. It was then known as “purple heart”, “anxiety neurosis” and many of our diggers suffered “shell shock”, another name for post traumatic stress disorder.

Tragically, Commander Wendt, Chief Petty Officer Bruce and Leading Seaman Edward Trudgett are three plaintiffs who have died in the last six months. As these frail and elderly men die off, will we remember them? The Government pursues plaintiffs remorselessly. They spend millions in the belief that more plaintiffs will die before their cases get to court. There is no glory when we recount the history of this tragedy. Our sailors were ordered not to discuss the collision and go out and get drunk. If they required psychiatric help, chances were that the Navy would have discharged them as unfit for naval service due to a personality disorder.

The greatest tragedy of this collision is that the Australian Government Solicitors are prepared to use all their resources and power to deny the truth. The Minister for Defence, Mr Nelson, has acknowledged that too often his Department has failed the common sense test. In the Anzac spirit the Government must announce the introduction of a mediation scheme for all remaining cases. Hiding behind the mask of confidentiality clauses will not solve the saga.

As Australia faces the perils of a new terrorist threat, we must look after our servicemen. I am reminded of the Plaintiff who was attacked in court under cross-examination for displaying a sticker encouraging persons to join the forces. Little wonder many of our ex-servicemen, whose family members are a primary source for new recruits, remind the Minister for Defence that we must look after our own.

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  1. I have friends who were sprayed with agent orange who are still fighting for a penny of compensation and recognition after 40 years.

    Some should have been granted disability for PTSD years ago and were denied.

    Many still can’t sleep at night – they were only 19.

  2. Firstly, thanks for your common sense and concern Andrew.The resulting physical and mental disorders arising from war and explosions has been known worldwide without any doubt since the American civil war.There have been a couple of conditions labelled under the one umbrella.Even a look at early 1900 editions of Blacks medical dictionary shows the changing of terminology of “shell Shock” over the years and in many cases this is to suit the politics of the matter.It has been a big Problem.When psychiartry is used as a weapon against a medical condition you know corruption is afoot. Many Korean vets returned home to be told their ptsd was actually a personality disorder , as my Father was labelled, It is because you are seeking attention because you miss some deceased relative. My grandfather in my fathers case.My Father had full blown Shell Shock -the real deal- reacurring shock ,when your blood pressure drops to zero.Along with severe ptsd, He largely lived with ptsd because he was an intelligent man although it affected his everyday life enourmously but the resulting anxiety and frustration attacks would trigger the reacurring shock, he’d often be kicking around on the floor in circles totally disorientated or in the start of the preceedings reenact Frontline service thinking he was back in Korea.And he was, with complete full blown absolute horror on his face.We’d shove the prescribed valium down his neck as prescribed ,I had been doing it since i was five,in absolute terror myself, Instead of him receiving vasopressin which VA would not prescribe.Or acknowledge his condition.He’d be exhausted in a coma and sleep for many hours.He could be active for quite a while sometimes before total collapse.”dad! dad! it’s 1968! it’s me jimmy! Your home ! your home!Out of the dozen or so explosions he suffered 3 were documented serious and i have eye witness accounts of them.He was a machine gunner,2 yrs active service. Korea. This country is a farce, but it’s all we’ve got.

  3. The time article was interesting,and the Defence people seem to like losing valuable soldiers.When reading the article the problem within the ranks seems piffling,although in a war zone they are not…and calling in the bombers from the U.S.A. could only appeal to the McCains,who is starting to sound like Bush.If the patrol leader who left Defence, on the basis of his evidence being correct,surely a simple apology from the others involved would of been easy,after all they are still alive despite the differences between them.A lesson may have been learnt from the rest of the patrol,I guess its hard assessing the rules of behaviour in war are worth sustaining.Sad no compensation to the villagers has occured,perhaps Howard will auction his arse. I have also seen the generational problem of shell shock that Grey Areas refers to,it isnt easy when parents are not perfect anyway and when Granddad didnt have boxers mouth guards…. to wear ,in, any fear inducing circumstance,as a father of a friend felt he needed to wear,when and if, in fact he had to confront his son and me.Strange thing though, he was a maths teacher and able to teach the discipline well.Be weary of combat experienced people in power if all they are doing is overcoming fear.McCain!?

  4. The laws Korean vets fought under were the onus of proof is on the repatriation dept to prove their denied case , that the serviceman did’nt have to provide proof of his injuries , that every benefit of any doubt is to be given to the serviceman.King George was personally behind the instigation of these laws to protect people and servicemen from doctors and lawyers.There’s a lot of money in court cases and doctors being able to charge what they want depending on your pain.These laws were quietly taken out of the parliamentary act just after my Fathers death at 42 yrs of age of “natural causes”. Just after the Whitlam dismissal, Prior to the govt of the day tearing up medicare.Among other things.Saying that PTSD was’nt known in 1964 is an absolute and nothing but a total LIE.The powers that be just would not acknowledge it.I can prove it.After.First,People here were told in 1950’s “boys would be home from Korea at xmas because it was a war of nerves” Now through the Monash university’s studies this country pretends it only just knew of the culling of Korean vets and their families.They’ve had the info all the time.There has been cover up on top of cover up frightening people not to talk as myself, censoring them from the media and a war of paper for decades on the subject and carnage hidden from the public.To go into detail is a small book.But it is very interesting and it does affect every Australians life and quality of it.We are being conned.Of the 40 men of B company who marched through Sydney on return from K first period of service.only 8 were originals who went 12 mths before. All the rest were killed/wounded or taken out from Nerves.The official toll of over 300 dead from Korean service from all corners of service dos’nt take into account the 300 just from !st battalion who died after coming home because of it.Shortened lives of horror humiliation torment dejection and abuse often physical-being thrown out of doctors offices- for them and their family’s

  5. Monash Uni- Korea Vets
    3 times more likely to suffer Cancer Stroke Kidney disease Diabetes Arthritis than any other aust
    50 yrs on -More likely to suffer health and psychological problems
    6 times more likely to suffer PTSD than any other war service.Have higher levels of anxiety depression higher level of alcohol and cigarette intake
    Because 60% of vets are dead in 2004 states study results underestimated.
    States suicides in vets served 53-56 alarmingly high- higher than any aust fighting war period and speciallists totally baffled as to why seeing that was quiet peace keeping term
    My Father had run ins with politically powerful officers over this and repeatedly wrote to fed govt about it He suffered over there for doing so and when he came home
    Fed gov already knew why suicide rate was high Also i told them and dared them to do a study hence monash What has’nt been released is how many of the men of the 40% left of Kvets are actual frontline fighting men.[Met last claimed member of Bcompany in 1999] Most are behind lines workers.Many of whom knew corrupt med political and services circles to recieve pensioning while fighting men died. More fighting men died at home by the hands of their countrymen and a silent public than what directly died in Korea -339 accredited.229 supposedly wounded.As with all matters in this country it is the norm to address these problems when there is few left to deal with as asbestos and voyager disaster etc etc and done in the shadows out of the public eye with a dressing of controlled media feelgood stories. Medicos directly involved with the death of my father entered politics prior to the Whitlam dismissal and one of the army officers.One chemist ,very well to do who supplied my Father with a concoction of pills [ my poor families expense and none the right ones for his ailment]lived locally and knew our plight said he would attend to it when elected Did nothing but got rich.Continued

  6. Many of those directly involved with this knew what they had set up and their children also benefited by the shortage of medicos and specialists to come.One was alredy recieving three quarters of a million dollars a year well past ten years ago for a petty placement.Working in greenslopes veterans hospital.We were warned by a retired judge through Russ Close of the UDSA that my father was being used as a test case for the onus of proof and benefit of the doubt clauses of the parliamentary acts of repatriation, but it was also something else. Russ Close died of a heart attack while fighting for my family.He did legal work for veterans through the UDSA in Brisbane.The list of names involved in all this is interesting to say the least as are the tactics and workings of our gov.Many of my fathers files have dissapeared ,some were in folders marked To be destroyed.Many of our social ills today and a lot more to come are because of medical and dental service and the strain they are going to put on our lives because of their ability to get away with murder, be protected , and manipulate our governmental system.i’ve had to sit in the dental ques because of circumstance all my life and our children are going to reap the manipulations after we are gone.8,000 dollars for a broken ankle etc.turned away from hospitals.Billions of dollars dissapeared in corrupt contracts bludging public servant wages,and pensions and superannuations beside billions of dollars of public service frauds and rorts and the total fraud of our existance,all these years of slaughter for the poor and unprotected, no lives no future no bloody hope no representation, no answers.Look to our past to see were we are headed, do your own research of events.My fathers ashes lie under the corner of someone elses grave opposite the soldiers graves, no pension for Mum lives and health of his family shot to pieces.There is much more to all this minor brief but that is my Anzac day over.Thank’s fellow Australians

  7. Andrew Bartlett:
    Thank you for an excellent and timely post. Pity many of your fellow parliamentarians show so little interest.

    Two points:
    [1] Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service has also been helping peacekeepers, veterans of recent conflicts and their families for several years but VVCS has only just changed its name, so, hopefully more ADF and ex-ADF personnel will use its services ….. despite whatever any loud-mouthed, gutless senior NCOs who have never been under fire have to say about anyone thinking of asking for help from VVCS.

    [2] 152 Signals Squadron has been an integral part of SAS for decades, it’s not “attached” so saying that Geff Gregg was “not a qualified SAS soldier” is downright peculiar; I cannot imagine anyone being in 152 without surviving the rigorous selection and training regime to get into the squadron let alone being deployed on hostile overseas operations.

  8. Of course, Howard will be attending the four (known) suicided) soldiers funerals as quickly as he attended Pvt Jake Kovco’s, wont he?

  9. Andrew.

    I note reports in today’s media re a call for the federal government to do more.

    Noting this response;
    Marilyn Shepherd says:
    April 26th, 2007 at 1:08 am
    I have friends who were sprayed with agent orange who are still fighting for a penny of compensation and recognition after 40 years.

    Some should have been granted disability for PTSD years ago and were denied.

    Many still can’t sleep at night – they were only 19.

    the various Commonwealth Acts need to be overhauled and including the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bias is clearly visible from within that department and perhaps,it’s time for the Minister for Veterans Affairs to be included in the inner Cabinet.
    Stories will continue to be told even via this forum, various media (online) feedback links.
    One can also hope that as we head towards a federal election, the federal opposition will do more.

    Noting the position of the Democrats re Depleted Uranium, our involvement over there in Afghanistan needs to be looked at and the massive amount of DU within the country. Are our soldiers in Harms Way?

  10. Andrew Bartlett:
    My heart goes out to the famiies and friends of ADF personnel who have been driven to commit suicide or who have suffered “untimely deaths”.

    No doubt you are very busy but there are a few things you yourself can do to help:

    [i]…. Please do NOT support any more dodgy, blame-shifting, expensive, delaying “inquiries”. We are all fed up with the unproductive media circuses and festivals-for-lawyers pretending to be “inquiries”. From the Voyager cover-up to the bizarre Evatt Royal Commission to the strange findings of some recent investigations, there is a litany of failed “inquiries” which defy logic, common-sense and fairness.

    Actions speak louder than words …. so let’s see some action from those who are paid so hansomely to be responsible for what happens to our Diggers, both during their service …. and afterwards.

    [ii]…. Please do whatever you can to convince your fellow parliamentarians that this is a very serious issue – one of our survival or our ruin – and not merely a transient item for point-scoring against other factions and parties.

    The suicide of a soldier is a tragedy but of itself will not destroy morale and cause collapse, widespread desertion and even defection to the enemy …. but it does add to all the other instances of mismanagement, incompetence, injustice, neglect, deceit, lack of leadership and abuse which together lead inevitably to defeat and annihilation.

    You can bet that the intelligence officers of hostile governments and potential enemies are noting very carefully what is happening to the Australian Defence Force and are delighted with what they see.

    Neither the ADF nor DVA are willing to face up to their responsibilities and the timid compliant news media will never force them to do so.

    Your constituents can make a lot of noise but not much else.

    So …. it’s up to your fellow parliamentarians, of all parties, to have a go.

  11. Dear Andrew,

    this made me truly worry! about the quality of some of our Military Health specialists, this article says that this guy researches for DVA. Maybe more rum rations to come soon. Personally, “I think we need to be very careful” when looking at causes (and cures) for PTSD and I agree with Professor Creamer.

    Drugs could ‘protect troops from PTSD’
    May 12, 2006 – 3:39PM


    Combat troops and emergency services workers may one day be given drugs to help shield them from developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an Australian researcher believes.

    Military health specialist Keith Horsley has discovered evidence suggesting daily rum rations may have helped World War I soldiers avoid psychological disorders like shell shock, a find he says offers hope for the development of a pharmacological alternative to protect modern veterans.

    However, he conceded any such drug would have to be stringently tested first to ensure it did not interfere with a soldier’s alertness, moral judgment or decision-making abilities.

    Dr Horsley said he began researching the history of alcohol use in battle after coming across some modern studies suggesting trauma victims were less susceptible to PTSD if they were intoxicated at the time of the experience than those who were sober.

    One such study of fire survivors found those who had been drinking were about 80 per cent less likely to develop PTSD.

    Scientists believe traumatic memories are stored better in the brain when a person is highly aroused, a factor which may contribute to the development of psychological problems later on.

    Because alcohol dulls that response, it may act as a circuit breaker, dampening mental stress connected to the event by dulling the memory of the trauma.

  12. Andrew,
    Well done as a sufferer, who is fighting for recognition from the commonwealth government, I salute you.
    I know first hand that we with PTSD are ignored as trouble makers and categorised as low priority. I am not in the ADF but a Federal policing force in Australia.
    The damage to the whole of my family, my life enjoyment and the way I view the world has all been turned inside out. I have been told by so called professionals within the organisation to get over it and to get back to work.
    All due to being on duty at the wrong place with the wrong psycho (a co worker).
    Keep up the fight for us.

  13. Geff Gregg was my partner, he was an amazing man and I miss him every minute of the day. He was sent away to fight for our freedom but gave up his own. More needs to be done to help others suffering with PTSD so they do not follow in his footsteps.

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