‘Hostility’ to wounded: Veterans in ‘derogatory’ row
EXCLUSIVE: Veterans are being subjected to "hostile" and "derogatory attitudes" from the very government agency entrusted to care for them - in some cases contributing to "suicidal ideation" - the nation's peak body of psychiatrists has warned.
And struggling ex-servicemen and women are also being turned away in droves from vital mental help because psychiatrists won't take on Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) cases - citing "burdensome paperwork" and lower rebates.
A spate of suicides has plagued the nation's former warriors - with an estimated 49 deaths last year, at least five since Anzac Day and more than 420 since 2001.
In the next fortnight the Morrison government will be handed a major Productivity Commission investigation into an "outdated" and "inefficient" rehab and compensation system.
But grieving families say urgent action is required now.
The Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign Save Our Heroes with the mother of naval officer and marine technician Dave Finney, 38, who took his life in February, spearheading calls for a Royal Commission.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has raised the lid on the litany of problems besetting the DVA, saying a "significant" proportion of former Australian Defence Force members with mental issues were not receiving help.
"Burdensome paperwork requirements and limited rebates from DVA may further discourage health services from accepting veterans and ex-service personnel as patients, even when they do have appropriate services," president Dr Kym Jenkins told the Productivity Commission. "It is also concerning to note reports of DVA staff who have exhibited hostility and derogatory attitudes towards veterans and ex-service personnel.
"Insensitive communications are distressing for veterans and ex-service personnel and can result in feelings of rejection, stigma and hopelessness, which may contribute to suicidal ideation and or the non-pursuance of justified claims for compensation."
Psychiatrists and other allied health providers such as physiotherapists are paid higher rebates for non-defence worker's comp cases, such as emergency service workers.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone said "inappropriate rebates" combined with a freeze on rebates for many years had made access problematic at best.
"Veterans deserve the best of care … they have given service to this country and access should not be a game of chance dictated by continued inadequate funding and economic scarcity of resources," he said.
Defence Force Welfare Organisation national president Kel Ryan said meetings about the rebates would be held in coming weeks.
"This is a real issue," he said. "It happens with other allied health therapies, like podiatrists - they don't get paid the same level for taking on a veteran. DVA needs to address this, it has to change."
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He said while he believed the Defence Department was making changes, the "suicides are still occurring". "It's a national issue," he said.
Opposition spokesman for Veterans' Affairs Shayne Neumann said veterans of war or warlike service required a system that was "fit for purpose".
"We owe a duty of care not just for the time these people serve but it needs to be ongoing," he said.
A MOTHER'S MISSION TO SAVE OTHERS
Daniel Garforth's daughter proudly wears his army hat as one of the last links she has to her father.
Her grandmother Nikki Jamieson says her son, and seven-year-old Riliee's father, might still be alive if the Australian Defence Force had acted on his pleas.
Instead, Ms Jamieson had to bury her 21-year-old army private son who took his own life on November 20, 2014 after he was "singled out" and "ridiculed" by some senior officials.
Now, Ms Jamieson is joining the call for a Royal Commission in a bid to expose cultural problems and the lack of mental health support for current and former military personnel.
"Towards the end he felt and was powerless, he felt he was a burden and didn't feel like he belonged there especially after Daniel was deployed to Darwin in 2012 and away from home in Queensland," Ms Jamieson said.
"He struggled and saw a psychologist at the base and they used old health diagnosis techniques and classified him as 'low risk' even though he was spiralling downhill."
After months of bullying and being "charged with silly things" including "not having his shoes polished properly", the young father began pleading to his mum to get him out of there.
The final straw came when Mr Garforth was on guard duty and he received a call from a friend of a suicidal soldier, warning him of her state of mind.
"He alerted his commanding officer who told Daniel to get back to duty and 'don't you dare move' to help the girl," Ms Jamieson said.
"The next morning the soldier had died and Daniel felt like he'd let her down because he thought that the commander was going to do something about it."
Two weeks later Mr Garforth died from suicide.
Ms Jamieson said she remembers having a conversation with her son about his colleague's death and he spoke about "how much it affected him".
"The Australian Defence Force is a tight-knit community and if one person takes their life, there is a much higher risk of another suicide happening because of how close everyone is with each other," she said.
"I phoned up the ADF begging them to bring Daniel home and to let him go but they kept putting me from one commander to another … even when my son kept filling forms out to leave they would always get lost and when you are in a state of distress that's the last thing you want."
Since 2014, Ms Jamieson has completed a Masters in Suicidology, is undertaking a PhD in veteran suicide and has become an advocate on suicide prevention.
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