Plea to com­bat stress mind­set

Townsville Bulletin - - LIFESTYLE - with Ross East­gate Ross East­gate is a mil­i­tary his­to­rian, writer and jour­nal­ist spe­cial­is­ing in de­fence. A grad­u­ate of Dun­troon and the Army Com­mand and Staff Col­lege, he has served in the Mid­dle East, PNG and East Ti­mor.

THERE was no greater shame for World War II air­crew, par­tic­u­larly Bomber Com­mand pilots, than to have their records stamped “LMF” – Lack of Moral Fi­bre.

In ex­treme cases this re­sulted in dis­missal from the ser­vice and be­ing sent to forced labour in UK coal mines while their fel­lows whom they were con­sid­ered to have “be­trayed” con­tin­ued to fly op­er­a­tional mis­sions with all the risks that en­tailed.

Sur­viv­ing WWII air­crew still dis­mis­sively re­call at re­unions fel­low crew who were “LMF- ed”.

Shell shock, com­bat stress, bat­tle neu­ro­sis – call it what you will – is now de­scribed as post- trau­matic stress dis­or­der, although there are still those who should know bet­ter, in­clud­ing se­nior uni­formed med­i­cal per­son­nel who dis­miss PTSD as at best an ex­cuse, at worst a myth.

On Mon­day night, de­liv­er­ing the ACT 2015 Or­der of Aus­tralia Ora­tion, CDF Air Chief Mar­shal Mark Bin­skin told his Can­berra au­di­ence that Aus­tralia must ac­cept there is “no shame” for mil­i­tary, po­lice and other first- re­sponse emer­gency per­son­nel ex­posed to trau­matic events to seek help for con­se­quent men- tal health is­sues. For­merly a fighter pi­lot, and an Iraq and Afghanistan vet­eran, Bin­skin warned his au­di­ence the per­cep­tion of weak­ness and shame as­so­ci­ated with ask­ing for help was the great­est bar­rier pre­vent­ing ac­cess to care and treat­ment for men­tal health is­sues.

Bin­skin claimed 47.9 per cent of the 60,228 per­son­nel who had served in Viet­nam had since suf­fered a men­tal health con­di­tion.

An ar­guable statis­tic since many hid their prob­lems or chose more ex­treme so­lu­tions.

The real fig­ures are un­doubt­edly greater be­cause too many ADF vet­er­ans are re­luc­tant to present for as­sess­ment, let alone treat­ment.

The flow- on ef­fect for their im­me­di­ate fam­i­lies and close ac­quain­tances is the hid­den cost.

Phys­i­cal wounds are al­ways more ob­vi­ous and can be treated and re­ha­bil­i­tated if not al­ways re­stored.

Men­tal ill­ness may not be ob­vi­ous and of­ten sim­ply re­mains dor­mant un­til some trig­ger makes it man­i­fest in mul­ti­ple, of­ten dis­as­trous ways.

Drug and al­co­hol de­pen­dence, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and worse are among the con­se­quences.

For some vet­er­ans, sui­cide seems the only op­tion but al­ways leaves an in­evitably greater emo­tional bur­den for those left be­hind.

The ADF has be­come more aware of the con­se­quences of ser­vice- re­lated men­tal health is­sues and Bin­skin de­clared a re­spon­si­bil­ity to treat and hope­fully re­ha­bil­i­tate in- ser­vice vic­tims.

Yet there is still a long way to go. Per­haps there was no greater sin­gle act of courage for WWII air­crew, par­tic­u­larly pilots, than to de­clare they could not or would not fly another mis­sion, for such an ad­mis­sion meant they would be im­me­di­ately de­clared LMF and would have their per­sonal doc­u­ments stamped ac­cord­ingly.

How­ever, those who made the ad­mis­sion knew in their hearts, de­spite the shame it would in­evitably en­tail, that their men­tal state had reached a point where the safety of their crews needed bet­ter lead­er­ship than they were then able to pro­vide.

Aus­tralia’s mil­i­tary lead­er­ship re­spon­si­bil­ity must also ex­tend to all those no longer serv­ing to en­sure no in­di­vid­ual who has the courage to de­clare a prob­lem may be con­sid­ered lack­ing in any sense.

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