KEEP LIGHT ON VETS

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

AMONG other things, Townsville is a gar­ri­son town. If sol­diers and their fam­i­lies are do­ing it tough in a city where un­em­ploy­ment is nearly 11 per cent, or twice the na­tional av­er­age, re­sources here are re­ally stretched to try and give them sup­port.

Too many vet­er­ans are fall­ing through the cracks here and in the rest of the coun­try too. In a city like this the re­sult of the lousy ef­fort we have made to look af­ter those who have served their coun­try in war zones from Korea to Malaya, to Viet­nam, to Iraq and Afghanistan and So­ma­lia and Ti­mor is bro­ken mar­riages, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, home­less­ness and, worst of all, high rates of sui­cide.

In raw num­bers, there are more than 10,000 Army and Air Force per­son­nel in Townsville and an even greater num­ber of vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. Sol­diers have dif­fer­ent re­ac­tions to post- trau­matic stress dis­or­der but few vet­er­ans are un­af­fected.

It is dif­fi­cult to track the num­ber of sui­cides be­cause while the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs has 300,000 on their books, there are twice that num­ber not in the sys­tem.

Some vet­eran sup­port groups there­fore have great difficulty in get­ting ex­act num­bers of sui­cides. The num­ber most widely used is 78 last year with 39 so far this year, mean­ing that there will be lit­tle or no im­prove­ment this year.

I had taken an in­ter­est in this prob­lem and talked to a num­ber of vet­er­ans about two years ago. Sadly while I com­mu­ni­cated with two Vet­er­ans Af­fairs min­is­ters, I achieved lit­tle be­cause I spent the last eight months in hos­pi­tal af­ter my can­cer op­er­a­tion and then had a lengthy re­cov­ery.

I spoke to men who lived as her­mits, abused drugs and al­co­hol who had no real hope of be­ing in a good enough men­tal state to be able to work again. All of them had one thing in com­mon – they all com­plained that the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs treated too many of them very poorly in­deed.

When I put some of their com­plaints to Stu­art Robert dur­ing his short ten­ure as min­is­ter, there was some im­prove­ment in the way the depart­ment treated its clients but it wasn’t long be­fore their be­hav­iour re­gressed and I wasn’t around to push the en­ve­lope a bit fur­ther.

Some 11 months ago the Prime Min­is­ter an­nounced a trial of meth­ods to re­duce the num­ber of sui­cides. At the time it was deemed by Mal­colm Turn­bull to be a “pri­or­ity”. It is only over the last month or so any sign of the promised “pri­or­ity” trial has been de­tected.

The an­nounce­ment mirac­u­lously came just days be­fore a big ar­ti­cle on sol­dier sui­cides was about to ap­pear.

Therein lies the prob­lem. Tak­ing care of vet­er­ans is only im­por­tant when the lack of de­cent care has a light shone upon it.

Politi­cians love to stand next to the troops when the cam­eras are rolling. They bask in the glory that al­ways sur­rounds those coura­geous enough to fight for their coun­try.

When there are no lights or cam­eras though, the eas­i­est Aus­tralians to for­get are the very same ones the pol­lies love to be seen to sup­port.

OF­TEN FOR­GOT­TEN: Many ex- sol­diers com­plain they have been poorly treated by the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs.

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