Veterans’ PTSD costs $241 million 3/1/21
Some time ago. I was driving through Western Sydney and saw a huge billboard for army recruitment. An interesting and challenging job, training for a trade etc. I then stopped in a supermarket and there was a much smaller ad for a charity that helped Veterans who were victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wondered why they needed a charity when the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs has a much larger budget per patient than anyone else.
I asked a clinical psychologist friend of mine about this. The psychologist had a good practice and admitted that a lot of work came from ex-Veterans, commenting nervously that almost all the Veterans had PTSD, but that it was a closely guarded military secret. I was not surprised. I had read ‘Exit Wounds- One Australian’s War on Terror’ by John Cantwell, the ex-commander of the Australian forces in Afghanistan. He had PTSD and took himself off the short-list to be the chief of Australian defence to go into a psychiatric hospital for treatment. He wrote in 2013 that the war in Afghanistan could never be won and that every Australian life lost there was wasted. Troops are still there, presumably until the Americans all leave.
In 2019 I went to a pub dinner with a group I knew vaguely at a hotel in Kings Cross. I had arrived late from work and as I moved to the end of our table, a man sitting alone on the next table moved his pack so that I could get in. I nodded thanks. My group said a brief ‘hullo’ and went on with a conversation about people I did not know, so I remained a little detached. After a while the man on the next table stood up and asked me in a broad Scottish accent if I would mind looking after his pack while got another beer. He was unshaven and looked very dejected, perhaps in his early forties in age but his clothes were new. I moved his pack so that it was more directly in my line of sight, and noticed that it was a state of art pack, perhaps a military one. When he returned I asked him what part of Scotland he was from. (This is always a good opening line for Scots as they hate being asked what part of England). He said that he was a stonemason, who had lived with his single mother until she had become unwell with memory loss and needed institutional care. He wanted to get a ‘powder ticket’ so that he could have his own quarry. He could not afford this training so he had joined the British Army. Seemingly he learned his explosives quite well and was posted to Afghanistan. He had had to do ‘a job’ involving explosives and was praised by his commander as he had apparently done it well from a military point of view.
He did not elaborate much at this point as he choked back his tears, but he felt utterly worthless and had asked for an immediate discharge from the army. He had an elder brother in Australia from whom he had been estranged since his parents separated when he was young and he had in arrived in Australia this very morning to find his brother at the most recent address he had. He had no phone number or email. The brother had left the address, so he had stopped for a drink. He had no friends, no country and was very, very depressed.
As his tale unfolded, I was increasingly wondering what I could do, but in this case luck was with us both. One of the others on the table I was in theory still having dinner with had started to listen to our conversation. She was a counsellor in the Kings Cross area and joined in. She took over and found him accommodation, promising to get him some PTSD counselling when she finished a morning appointment the next day, and quite subtly got him to promise reciprocally not to commit suicide overnight.
I followed this up with the counsellor and she was apparently successful. He went with an Australian PTSD sufferer to a farm in the Central West where rehab is done for ex-Afghanistan veterans. Hopefully it was successful longer term.
But this story is largely luck, and success is not assured. Here was the real face of the foreign policy stupidity in the Middle East, and prevention is far better than any hoped-for cure.
The Vietnam war may have been ‘lost’ on the TV screens of America, but it is highly dubious that it could have been won anyway. Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan do not look like having any chance of the West winning. But since the Falklands war, journalists are embedded with the Army and so are on one side that gives them protection and restricts their information, so there is no peace movement of any political note to stop the foolish machinations of Australia in fawning to please the US in wars.
I am not sure that Veterans have ‘unlimited access’ to mental health services- if they did, why would there be charities appealing for support? My experience is that all funding bodies including Veterans Affairs try to deny the existence of a problem. It seems the concern of the article is the cost of the rehab. The answer of course is to stop the war.
The Buttery mentioned was the one of very few live-in addiction rehab programs that I could find when I was in Parliament. It was near Bangalow on the North Coast and had endless trouble getting funding. If it is now exclusively used by Veterans others will be missing out.