Friday, April 25, 2014

War damaged heroes

from w
This Anzac Day there is much to reflect upon and particularly the trauma of many men returning to civilian life. I think of my cousin after Vietnam who only felt at peace many years later when he went to live in the Phillipines. Rest in peace Gary.  Here's a story told by St Mary's parish priest in Geelong as published in the Geelong Advertiser.

For too many service personnel, official recognition is not the only thing they bring home with them when they return to civilian life. Source: News Limited.
Throughout his 12 months in the jungles and paddy fields of Vietnam, he had relied on his mates, and they on him, for everything.ALONE. Rick was no stranger to the concept, nor the reality.But when his tour of duty as a “Nasho” was completed, he was separated from them literally overnight, and arrived at Essendon Airport near midnight. No mates, no uniform (he was told he had to be in “civvies”), no family. Alone.
A few weeks later, he was making his way up Swanston St in Melbourne to RMIT, to resume the studies stopped short by his army conscription. His sharply toned reflexes helped him duck away just in time as the jets of saliva from two moratorium protesters shot towards him. They had identified him as a recently returned soldier by his “giveaway” army-style haircut.
But he couldn’t escape the verbal barrage of insults. Finding refuge in the formerly friendly walls of the RMIT, he slumped against a wall.
Alone again.
Somehow camouflaging the trauma of his Vietnam experiences, he gradually worked his way to mid-level responsibility in a large corporation. An astute, intelligent man, his natural ability meant he could have been the CEO — there or anywhere.
But he wasn’t. His post-traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam made sure of that.
Instead he had won the “raffle” when his birthday marble was drawn out in the Nation Service ballot.
Like so many others, he never talked about Vietnam — except in his nightmares. Ultimately his PTSD meant he just couldn’t work any more.
His work friends saw his decline — physical and psychological — as he entered his fifties, and wondered if he would make it to retirement at 55. A sympathetic boss helped him stagger over the line — just.
He planned to live on the superannuation he had managed to put aside in recent years. After he stopped work, a friend encouraged him to seek any entitlements he should have from his war service.
He’d never thought about it. Since his return in 1969, Rick hadn’t allowed “The War” to fill his mind. He didn’t dare. Had he done so, it would have been the end of him.
A helpful RSL advocate told him that he should apply for the TPI — totally and permanently incapacitated — pension, would recognise that he wasn’t working because he couldn’t work. His physical, psychological and psychiatric reports were totally supportive of this. His PTSD meant he would never work again.
Several RSL advocates assured him he was totally deserving of the TPI, he “ticked all the right boxes”. But they, and he, hadn’t bargained on one word.
Not the “alone” of isolation he had felt for so many years as he battled depression and PTSD, the legacy of his wartime service. No, this “alone” was the word that eventually denied him the TPI support he so deserved from the nation he had served so well.
You see, the TPI legislation specifies that to be eligible for the “Special Rate” pension (TPI), a veteran must prove that he ceased work “due to war-caused disabilities alone”.
In Rick’s case, in addition to his physical and mental deterioration, a restructuring at his work (implemented just before retirement when a new boss saw he wasn’t coping) meant his job was no longer there.
That all his medical evidence testified he couldn’t continue — restructuring or no restructuring — didn’t matter. Strict interpretation of the legislation decided he had not ceased work due to war-caused disabilities alone. Ever since that “alone” word was used to crush him, his life has never been what it should, but a daily physical, mental and, thanks to “alone”, financial struggle. He’s received a pension — but not what he deserved.
In determining support for veterans whose service of their country has changed their lives forever, somehow this one word has been allowed to be a “get out” word when the economics are tough.
For damaged veterans, young and old, this is not good enough. And it needs to be changed.
Today, Rick will be at an Anzac dawn ceremony — the first time in more than 40 years. Not marching. Just watching.
And alone.

Father Kevin Dillon is St Mary’s Geelong parish priest.


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