Lack of concern final blow for abandoned diggers
East Timor and Afghan veteran Dan Heaphy could be facing jail for offences committed while battling without help the PTSD he suffered in the service of his country. But sadly he is just the tip of the iceberg.
But sadly he is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are at least 150 known veterans behind bars in NSW and Victoria, but the real number is believed to be much higher.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not keep details and even Corrective Services know only of the few who reveal their service.
Mr Heaphy blames his conditions for the fact he is now facing assault charges.
"The DVA aren't there for us, they're just another organisation and just there to exist financially," 40-year-old Mr Heaphy said.
"After I was discharged I moved back to Melbourne and the depression kicked.
"More than a year ago I started to get in a bit of trouble and I am facing some serious offences, but it all mostly happened when I wasn't completely right. I still have my battles."
His case has been adjourned to July 17 to allow time for psychiatric reports that will look at the impact of a serious vehicle accident in 2005 that left him mentally scarred while he was a Corporal in the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.
"None of it I'm overly proud of, but unfortunately it's a consequence of all the years that were left untreated after I was discharged from the Defence Force in 2007. I hope the system can identify these issues that have contributed to this," Mr Heaphy said.
There is no official agency keeping track of veterans when they go to prison, with many refusing to reveal their former role because they do not wish to bring shame on their military service.
Smaller organisations say the DVA is not supporting jailed veterans and it has been left to them to fill the gap.
Michael Quinn, the Victorian president of the Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association, said the services provided by the DVA and RSL for veterans in jail simply "don't exist".
"Our new program is looking at identifying veterans who are in the prison system and helping them put claims through DVA," he said. The aim was to help them "transition into normal life once they get out".
"The government and the DVA have failed to do anything. The RSL wouldn't even take up our program and there hasn't been a hell of a lot of a push from them towards doing things for the veterans in jail," he said.
At best, Mr Quinn said, a veteran could expect a visit on Anzac Day from an old Digger in his 90s.
Victorian RSL CEO Mike Annett said the organisation has been working with prisons since 2016 to include a Welfare Intake Assessment with the questions: "Have you served in the Australian Defence Force? If so, would you like a visit from somebody from the RSL?"
"We are ensuring that we work with the government, the DVA, and Correctives to identify veterans and provide them with support," Mr Annett said.
But he said it was up to the jailed ex-service member to request a visit.
"Depending on where the prison is located, we will arrange for somebody from the local RSL to conduct a professional visit to ascertain what assistance the prisoner might require," he said.
Mr Annett said the RSL helped veterans with lodging claims to the DVA but even that is "somewhat restricted" because it has very little access to military records.
The DVA's Transition and Wellbeing Study in 2015 looked at the effect of military service on the mental, physical and social health of former ADF personnel.
It recorded a small number who had been arrested, convicted or imprisoned after leaving the ADF.
According to the data, 3 per cent of ADF personnel had been arrested since leaving the ADF and a further 2 per cent had been convicted. But the study only covered those who had left in the previous four years.
A DVA spokeswoman said states and territories were responsible for corrective services data.
She said Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester had raised the lack of information with the states and was working to "capture more comprehensive reporting".
Veterans in jail still get compensation payments for an impairment and veterans leaving jail receive support and a "one-off, non-taxable crisis payment" from DVA to set up a new home, the spokeswoman said.
DEFENCE SACKED MY SON IN HOSPITAL
By Matthew Benns
The mother of Royal Australian Navy poster boy David Finney has had hundreds of calls from veterans and their families begging for help.
"I am appalled by the number of veterans needing urgent help," said Julie-Ann Finney, whose son took his own life in February this year after the Department of Veterans Affairs ignored his pleas.
Writing in today's Daily Telegraph, Ms Finney said the reaction only served to reinforce her call for a royal commission into the treatment of the nation's soldiers, sailors and air force personnel who suffered as a result of their service.
"I have had four calls through messenger from veterans or their partners in the past two weeks. They are on the brink and seeking urgent assistance to prevent an immediate loss of life," she writes. "These are people who have given service to their country and now feel abandoned."
Ms Finney wants a royal commission to look at the DVA and a spate of suicides by veterans that are claiming an average of a life a week, leaving thousands of families to deal with ongoing devastation.
In her column, she reveals that her son was sacked by Defence while lying in his hospital bed feeling " hopeless, alone and at his lowest ebb".
"The Department of Defence chose that moment to sack him. He was medically discharged and on the same day a transfer of rehabilitation authority was signed, transferring his rehabilitation from the ADF to the DVA," she said. "The ADF washed its hands of him - he never heard from them again.
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