A SOL­DIER’S STORY

Townsville Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - BETTINA WAR­BUR­TON RE­PORTS

FOR­MER sol­dier and fa­ther of four Adam Fowles had his world turned up­side down when he was med­i­cally dis­charged from the army af­ter serv­ing his coun­try for 25 years.

FOR­MER sol­dier Adam Fowles fears more ex- ser­vice per­son­nel will take their lives if the De­part­ment of Veter­ans’ Af­fairs ( DVA) does not make sig­nif­i­cant changes to its claims pro­ce­dures.

Mr Fowles said one of the big­gest is­sues ex- ser­vice per­son­nel faced, be­sides bat­tling phys­i­cal and emo­tional scars from their job, was with the de­part­ment.

“The long- drawn- out DVA process is the cause of many a sui­cide and the only way to stem that is to make some ma­jor changes,” he said.

“When a Dig­ger is go­ing through PTSD … the last thing he or she needs is to face the DVA claims process. They are not in a men­tally strong place to do so. It would be a stress­ful process for some­one who’s not go­ing through PTSD, so for some­one who has PTSD it’s hellish.”

Mr Fowles said the ef­fects of a slow claims process not only caused fi­nan­cial hard­ship but made for added stress.

For­mer Townsville sol­dier Jesse Bird, 32, ( pic­tured) took

his own life in June this year, just weeks af­ter los­ing a claim for per­ma­nent im­pair­ment he had been pur­su­ing for al­most two years. The de­ci­sion came de­spite DVA ac­cept­ing ini­tial li­a­bil­ity, in Au­gust 2016, for Mr Bird’s PTSD, de­pres­sive dis­or­der and al­co­hol abuse.

“The un­for­tu­nate thing about DVA is that it’s not run by ex- ser­vice per­son­nel but mostly by pub­lic ser­vants who have no un­der­stand­ing of what it’s like to look af­ter your mate like we are trained for in the De­fence Force,” Mr Fowles said. “Ex- ser­vice­men get fed up and don’t see any other av­enue. They don’t see an­other way out.”

A De­part­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs spokesman said the de­part­ment ac­knowl­edged that some veter­ans and their fam­i­lies had had dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences with claims.

“In the 2017– 18 Bud­get the Gov­ern­ment pro­vided $ 166.6 mil­lion to the first stage of Vet­eran Cen­tric Re­form, which will sup­port DVA’s ef­forts to mod­ernise its ICT sys­tems and trans­form the way it does busi­ness,” he said.

“It will change DVA from a an or­gan­i­sa­tion that fo­cuses on claims to one that places veter­ans and their fam­i­lies at the cen­tre of ev­ery­thing it does. In or­der to con­tinue to sup­port on­go­ing claims pro­cess­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, the Gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing $ 13.5 mil­lion as part of the 2017– 18 Bud­get. It is ex­pected that this will al­le­vi­ate pres­sure on claims pro­cess­ing staff and re­duce the back­log as­so­ci­ated with in­creased claims. The de­part­ment’s aim is to en­sure a claimant re­ceives all of their law­ful en­ti­tle­ments.”

The spokesman said the gen­eral in­tent of veter­ans’ en­ti­tle­ments law was to deal gen­er­ously with those who had served the na­tion.

Pic­ture: ZAK SIM­MONDS

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