Treatment of injured service persons

The Australian Government’s recently announced that it plans to significantly increase the number of people in the 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. 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. 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 on Meet the Press which covered much the same ground. It is reproduced below with permission.

My partner was medically discharged from the miliary after nineteen years service last year. 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. But to see a strong vibrant career soldier reduced to tears day after day in pure frustration is heartbreaking. 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. 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. He is facing several operations and rehabilitation. 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 the Injured Service Persons Association National (Peacetime Injuries), to visit two ex-service people. One was a young man in Melbourne, and the other a young man in Hervey Bay named Michael Andrews. 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 Veterans’ Affairs and the 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. 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 Michael’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.  His various suggestions have some validity, but I think he is wrong to ignore the significant impact that inadequate treatment of veterans and other ex-service personnel has, particularly when you combine it with other factors such as those Dibb mentions.

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  1. While I agree with Andrew’s general point here, of looking after our servicemen and women, I do believe we require a larger defence force.

    If Australia is to play the role of a leader in the workld and region, especially as peacekeepers (which I believe is our responsibility), we do need more soldiers.

    I’m not optimistic about the chances of getting them, as I understand we’re already not meeting crecruitment targets.

  2. Governments wish to send our young men and women to address our international responsibilities and sometimes political agendas (Iraq).
    Over the years I have been frustrated by a series of issues where politicians from both sides ‘duck & weave’ about supporting those who are injured either physically or mentally.
    Industry these days has an ongoing duty of care and, on our behalf, governments must have a fair and reasonable ongoing support for those who have risked their lives whether in wars, peacekeeping or humanitarian ventures.
    At the moment I would stress to my son, if he was contemplating signing-up, the risks in the distant future as well as in the actual service. I do not trust the present or recent defence ministers or the bureacracy on this issue.

  3. I applied to join the RAAF 4 years ago because they were desperate for Air Traffic Controllers. I aced all the maths test they give to pilots and Air Traffic Controllers, and then they rejected me because I am asthmatic.

    This sort of attitude doesn’t help. Surely it makes no difference when I will be sitting in a control tower, it’s not like I’m going to be doing many bayonet charges or flying an F-111.

  4. My father was the first in our family’s male linage not to server. I tried to join the RAAF but was rejected on the basis of being colour blind. However I will strongly council my newborn son to avoid the military at all costs. It is now extensively politicised and does not offer remuneration or support in any way sufficient to compensate the commitment given to the organisation and nation. Our treatment of our injured service men and women is a shameful disgrace.

  5. I kinda like the idea that war isn’t fashionable any more here. Unfortunately the idea of using violence to solve problems persists in the world. Until then I think we require a defence force to protect both ourslves and others.

  6. As an ex regular member of the Australian Army and also returned from active service I continually discourage my descendants and any other young people I talk to from considering the ADF as a career.

    My reasons? they will be discarded if their health fails.

  7. Andrew as a returned serviceman (Vietnam) I am so glad to see that some of you guys in bullshit castle (canberra) are doing the right thing. A personel tanks from me.

  8. like some of the above, I am a Vietnam vet and now a TPI. There are many very hurt and disillusioned ex service men who don’t have faith in politicians to put some fairness back into the Repatriation system. The depth of feeling is such that many Vets would support a politician who was prepared to fairly represent them in parliament.The TPI payment is now in freefall which not only makes life difficult financially but devalues the sacrifice of current TPIs. You would find a lot of votes coming from some very grateful Vets if you and your party would get behind our case. It really is time to ‘keep the bastards honest’

  9. As the National President of the Injured Service Persons Association I sincerely thank Andrew for his ongoing support of veterans & incapaxcitated ex-service people.

    Keep at them Andrew and I like many are actively discourageing people from joining.

  10. I agree with most of the posts above.
    The Howard Government’s treatment of disabled veterans is appalling.
    The opposition has contributed nothing to rectify this situation and are condemned equally.
    Surely the government must see that the punitive treatment of disabled veterans impacts on recruitment numbers for the ADF.
    Failure to acknowledge this simple fact is another indication as to just how far out of touch the Howard government really is.


  11. Lynette 2:
    I, for one, would be very happy if war was finally relegated to museums, libraries and memorial parks. Until then though …..

    So you’re another one of the thousands who have had a brush with the whimsy and fancy that passes for ADF recruiting these days. Shhh, be quiet or you’ll spoil the fairy story that the crash of ADF recruiting was caused by demographic changes, their superman-like standards of entry, Australia’s current exceptional prosperity, the “skills shortage” (???) and record low levels of unemployment, fear of combat among young Australians …. and “the dog ate my homework”.

    Seriously though, if you are keen to join up, learn all you can about ATC and aircraft operation …. one day, an armed enemy will bring the ADF back to reality, the current decision-makers will be blown to pieces in an enemy attack (or sacked) and the Australian people will need you in a hell of a hurry, asthma or no asthma.

  12. Numbers joining or remaining in the ADF much past a minimum hitch of 4 years are unlikely to change until there is a real acknowledgement of the work/life balance that is demanded by soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen within relationships or within families. The ADF needs to justify the huge upheavals and transiency that it demands of its members and by association its member’s dependants, if it wants to become an employer of choice.

    I advised the girlchild to not only steer clear of joining the ADF, but to also steer clear of becoming an ADF spouse.

    It seems I am not alone in this advice to my GEN Yer…

  13. Andrew Bartlett and Everyone:
    The ADF doesn’t have a hope in hell of gaining and retaining sufficient numbers to keep going, EVEN WITH CONSCRIPTION or foreign mercenaries, until the federal government – regardless of party – sacks the entire top echelon in the Dept, of Veterans’ Affairs and its so-called “independent” organizations, such as the notorious Veterans’ Review Board, and until the government faces up to the reality of the tremendous damage it has already done to its own service personnel and their families.

    A bit of history to ponder: Australia’s Repatriation / Veterans’ Affairs system did indeed have its origin in a grateful victorious nation at the end of the First World War ….. but behind all that was the horror of the British ruling class (and its Australian branch) at the French Army mutinies and at the Russian Revolution, where previously loyal soldiers overthrew their own rulers; a horror that was exacerbated when Lenin and the Bolsheviks then led those same soldiers into the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the murderous Russian Civil War. They didn’t want that sort of thing happening in the British Empire and especially not in Australia …. and several acts of indiscipline by Australian troops in 1918 were seen as a harbinger of worse to come. Today, there is nobody alive in a position of authority or influence who remembers just why our Repatriation / Veterans’ Affairs did come into existance; there is the very charming official story, of course, but the real background has been long forgotten or ignored ….. hence, the problems and injustices of the past few decades where the ADF and DVA have abused and neglected Australian veterans and their families in much the same way as did the old Native Affairs departments and the church missions mistreat Aborigines.

    Either fix all the long-standing injustices … or watch the ADF disintegrate, the choice is clear.

  14. Suki:
    The unnecessary frequent shuffling of families all over Australia on a whim and a fancy has had incredibly destructive and hidden effects on the children of service personnel. Apart from being so expensive, it has done absolutely for national cohesiveness.

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