THE AGE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE ON BULLYING AND NEGLECT IN THE ADF
21 Apr 2008
From The Age Newspaper - By Nick McKenzie
SERVING and former soldiers have broken ranks to expose the neglect, bullying and bastardisation faced by some Australian Defence Force personnel with mental health problems.
The soldiers, who have served in the Middle East, East Timor and Africa, claim they were denied adequate support and ostracised after seeking help for mental health problems.
The Age can also reveal that the family of an army captain who has served twice in Iraq and who has severe mental health problems has claimed he received an appalling level of care at a Queensland defence base in February. A letter from Defence about the incident says its health services work in a "frugal financial environment".
The revelations come with the Federal Government still to release the findings of a military inquiry into the 2006 suicide of Afghanistan veteran Geff Gregg, who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after his involvement in a firefight. It is believed the inquiry has called for an overhaul of veterans' benefits, compensation and retraining services.
The findings of an inquiry into the suicide of another Afghanistan veteran, Andrew Paljakka, will be completed this month.
An inquiry into the death of Private Ashley Baker — who died from a gunshot wound in a locked toilet in East Timor — will resume in Brisbane today. The inquiry has already heard he was bullied and had depression.
The captain who allegedly received inadequate care at the Lavarack Barracks in Townsville suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from a road crash in the 1990s that killed several soldiers and from his Iraq service.
The captain's sister, Anastasia Gunn-Reid, a trained nurse who was with the captain when he sought help, said the treating doctor was dismissive and the psychiatrist was unavailable because he was on two weeks' leave and had not been replaced.
"The day that I sought medical care for (my brother) was extremely distressing for him and also for me. I believe that this doctor is placing soldiers' physical and mental wellbeing at risk," her complaint to Defence said.
Ms Gunn-Reid also accused Defence of a cover-up after she was told in a letter on Friday that her brother's care was sufficient. The letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Masotti said Defence Health Services gives good care, despite the "current frugal financial environment".
Among the Townsville-based personnel who spoke to The Age are army sergeant Brett Shearer; "Simon", a long-serving RAAF member who did not want his real name used; former army sergeant Jason Nicholls, who was discharged in February; and former private Paul Gilmore, who was discharged in late 2006.
The four men urged the Federal Government to boost the training and number of medical professionals who help soldiers and to confront the bastardisation faced by those who seek help. All said their mental health issues had sparked drinking problems or the verbal and mental abuse of their families.
Sergeant Shearer's post-traumatic stress disorder stems from his 1993 service in Somalia, although he also served in East Timor and Afghanistan.
"There is drinking, gambling. I know a person who has gambled their whole house away. The attitudes to mental health in the military needs to change," he said.
Former sergeant Jason Nicholls, whose post-traumatic stress disorder relates to service in Rwanda and who also served in East Timor, said that despite being suicidal, he had to wait three weeks to see a psychiatrist. He said he was labelled a malingerer after seeking help and that superior officers bullied and belittled him.
"Every day, if I wasn't drunk, I was thinking about hurting myself," he said. "I am not saying you have to give us a cuddle, but Defence needs to wise up because some of these blokes coming home now have big dramas. How many more (suicides) is there going to be as a result of stuff they have seen in the Middle East?"
RAAF member "Simon," who served in Afghanistan, said his recent diagnosis for major depression stemmed from four years of bastardisation in the RAAF. An official Defence complaint details the latest incident, saying that in February two RAAF members drove a car onto his front lawn and did "burn-outs".
"It terrorised my wife … For me it was a personal attack on my family," he said.
Former private Paul Gilmore said his post-traumatic stress disorder stemmed from his near death in East Timor from heat stress.
"When I discharged, I was kicked out the bloody door without giving me any information. No rehabilitation whatsoever, and I still had (post-traumatic stress disorder) through the roof," he said.
In March, The Age revealed that veterans' mental health experts estimated that up to 10% of soldiers returning from the Middle East would face mental health problems and support services were severely under-funded.
The Federal Government has said it will launch an inquiry into the mental health support given to soldiers, but is yet to release details.
The Defence department said it could not comment on specific cases for privacy reasons.
Anonymous, Paul Gilmore, Brett Shearer and Jason Nicholls in Townsville, Queensland,
are among many soldiers who bemoan the lack of ADF mental health support
Photo: Cameron Laird