The Australian Government’s recently announced that it plans to significantly increase the number of people in theÂ Australian Defence Force, and will be starting a full scale recruitment drive for the army in order to achieve that. I am not convinced that such an increase is needed, but regardless of that, if the Government is to have any chance at all of succeeding in increasing the size of the ADF, it needs to address the very real problems in the way it treats some of the people who serve in it.
If the Prime Minister and Minister for Defence are serious about improving recruitment and retention rates, they will need to do more than produce a fancy advertising campaign or promise some extra cash or other bonuses.Â Unless serious steps are taken to further improve the military justice system and particularly to improve the treatment of veterans and ex-service personnel who are injured or harmed in the course of their duties, they will not succeed in gaining and retaining more recruits.
Below is an example of the very strong feelings I have found a number of times amongst people in the community about this issue.Â It is the text of an email I received following a recent press release on the treatment of veterans and injured ex-service personnel and some comments I made onÂ Meet the Press which covered much the same ground.Â It is reproduced below with permission.
My partner was medically discharged from the miliary after nineteen years service last year.Â He has been to hell and back in the last two years and he still has not received the support he needs.
We as a family have been through so much.Â But to see a strong vibrant career soldier reduced to tears day after day in pure frustration is heartbreaking.Â The system has let my partner down and he feels so frustrated, hurt and angry.
This is a man that served his country in 1999 in East Timor and has done over twenty years of service if you include the time he was in cadets while at school and army reserves.Â He adored his career as a soldier and would still be in, if only the military had fought for him, if he was offered the best medical services and specialists he deserved and was promised he could have still been in the army doing what he loves, there would have been no reason to discharge him the army just placed him in the too hard basket and broke a good man.
This soldier was medically discharged due to injuries and then faced an uphill battle having them recognised before he could commence treatment.Â He is facing several operations and rehabilitation.Â He and his family feel he was effectively thrown on the scrap heap when he became injured and was accused of being a malingerer and a drain on the military.
This is far from an uncommon scenario and is made all the more disgraceful because of the nature of the work these men and women are expected to undertake and when they need help to get them back on their feet they are denigrated and made to feel worthless.
In January this year I had the opportunity, following a proposal from theÂ Injured Service Persons Association National (Peacetime Injuries), to visit two ex-service people.Â One was a young man in Melbourne, and the other a young man in Hervey Bay named Michael Andrews.Â The aim was to get a small idea of how life is for some of the people injured in the course of their military service and their experiences in dealing with the Departments of Defence and Veteransâ€™ Affairs and theÂ Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme.
Both men had suffered permanent and severe disabling injuries which will require ongoing treatment and home care for the remainder of their lives.Â Both men and their families have also battled to receive proper and appropriate treatment from the Government they were willing to serve.
You can read here a little of Michaelâ€™s case and that of other injured or harmed ex-service personnel by clicking here.
UPDATE: Professor Paul Dibb from ANU gives some other reasons why recruiting a larger number of people for the ADF will be difficult.Â Â His various suggestions have some validity, but I think he is wrong to ignore the significant impactÂ that inadequate treatment of veterans and other ex-service personnel has, particularly when you combine it with other factors such as those Dibb mentions.