Are our soldiers equipped for the transition to everyday life?
Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - 20:30

James Hancock spent eight and a half years in the army after joining when he was just 17. He was hoping when he left that his training and experience would count for something, but it didn’t. He flew drones and did meteorological work during his two tours of Afghanistan but was unable to get a job when he discharged.

Kiel Goodman was also deployed to Afghanistan but when he left the army he applied for around 150 jobs and only got two interviews. Unemployed, his life then spiraled out of control and he began using drugs and at one point was suicidal.

Brad Watts was a medic in the army for 11 years and despite being exposed to traumatic events doesn’t suffer from PTSD. Only around 16 per cent of veterans suffer from PTSD. Brad planned his exit from the military for 12 months and walked straight into a job on an oil rig. He says planning and having a goal is key to a smooth transition out of the military.

Veterans groups say around 30 per cent of veterans in Australia are unemployed. That’s much higher than the national unemployment rate of 5.6 per cent.

A veteran’s problems can often be made worse when applying for compensation with the Department of Veterans Affairs with some claims taking years to be processed and paid.  

The RSL was once the place veterans turned to for support after their service but that’s changed. There are now more than 3000 ex-service organisations and many veterans say the RSL is outdated doesn’t represent the modern veteran.

This week, Insight speaks with veterans to see how prepared they were for civilian life and what can be done to make it easier. 




Support services 

  • Lifeline - T: 13 11 14
  • Veterans and Veterans Family Counselling Service (VVCS) - T: 1800 011 046   (available 24/7)
  • Mates4Mates
  • Soldier On


Statement from Department of Defence


JENNY BROCKIE:  And welcome to you all. James, you were deployed twice to Afghanistan, you spent eight and a half years in the Army from the age of 17. What had you done in the Army? 

JAMES:  I was a metrology and survey soldier.  From there when that trade started to die we became UAV operators. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What does that mean? 

JAMES:  For want of a better word, a drone operator. 


JAMES:  Flying the Scan Eagle and the Shadow. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, so you were in charge of doing that or?

JAMES:  On my second tour I was a mission commander and it was my responsibility to plan, organise the missions, put troops to task and execute it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, so organisational skills that you had to use every day while you were doing that job? 

JAMES:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How were you when you got out of the Army? 

JAMES:  Um, when I discharged I woke up one morning and just decided that I'd literally rather be anywhere else than soldiering so I went to work, I put my discharge in, I had no job to go to, I had no plan as to what to do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why didn't you have a plan? 

JAMES:  Um, look, I didn't realise or understand at the time but I was, I was probably not quite right. There were a few underlying issues. The most important thing to me was just getting out and going and finding some happiness. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of jobs did you apply for when you got out? 

JAMES:  Oh, any and everything, trade positions, entry level positions, managerial positions, government jobs. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How many would you have applied for? 

JAMES:  Dozens. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Over what sort of period of time? 

JAMES:  Um, over the period of about six months and then I went to TAFE and picked up a certificate there. That did leave me to work but I wasn't in the right, um, head space, if you will, and that fell apart. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why weren't you in the right head space?  What head space were you in? 

JAMES:  I identified very heavily as a soldier and once that was taken away it left a pretty enormous gulf, pretty big void that was very hard to fill. I didn't have anything in common with any of my peers. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you feel you didn't have in common with people? 

JAMES:  Um, I just felt like I was different, from different group, you know, I didn't understand a lot of things. I was 25 years old before I got a Medicare card.  My partner had to hold my hand in the supermarket because I'd just be grumpy at people because they'd, I just grew up a certain way, I grew up in the military and yes, civilian world is a big scary place. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of response did you get from employers when you tried to get a job? 

JAMES:  I was lucky to get any response to be frank. It was a lot of jobs that I applied for that I simply heard nothing back from. I even went and knocked on businesses' doors with a resumé and asked if they'd like to take on an apprentice.  A lot of people told me that I shouldn't have left the Army, it's a good stable work and I should have stayed there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Gee, that must have felt good? 

JAMES:  Yeah, pretty good. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yeah, especially when you wanted to get out so much. You tried to get a job at Woolworths at one stage? 

JAMES:  Yes, I looked on the internet site for Woolworths for my local shop, they said that they weren't recruiting so I thought I'd, you know, be proactive and think outside the box, got dressed up, brang my resumé to the front counter and told the lady that I know there isn't any positions but if one pops up, please bear me in mind. I can be at work within the hour of you advertising that position and yeah, she just laughed at me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you have any sense of why you weren't getting anywhere? 

JAMES:  No, no idea. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  No feedback at all?  

JAMES:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What job are you doing at the moment? 

JAMES:  I'm employed by St John's, a small hospital down in Hobart and I'm a theatre orderly.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how do you feel about having that job after what you did for those years in the Army? 

JAMES:  Yeah, look, I really love it, to me it's very much an advanced form of therapy. It's a place where I can go that lets me interact with people. It puts me in real world situations that I otherwise wouldn't be. Before going to work I sat on my couch for three years, it was a big social interaction just to go to the shops and buy some groceries, so just getting out of the house every day, having a place to go, having a spot on the team, yeah, that's really important to me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Is it what you thought you might be doing after what you did? 

JAMES:  No. 


JAMES:  Um, by the time, when I was 24 years old my second tour of Afghanistan and I had a dozen soldiers that were mine, split site, over two different places, with millions of dollars of equipment, missions that were mine to plan, task and organise, I didn't think that I'd be, I'd be pushing trolleys in a hospital five years later. Um, but for me five years after that is a very different me to that guy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How different, in what way? 

JAMES:  Very different. The transition from a military mindset to a civilian one has been probably the hardest thing I've had to do. It's been a real challenge.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kiel, you joined the Army a couple of weeks after your 18th birthday? 

KIEL:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You did two tours of Afghanistan as well.  Then you left when you were 25. What sort of job were you hoping for after the Army? 

KIEL:  I was fresh out of school so being a soldier is all I knew and I was happy with that. I was happy with that for the seven close to eight years that I was in. It was very confusing for me waking up one morning still in the military realising that man, I don't know what I'm doing here anymore. I got to a point where putting on the uniform would nearly make me sick and that, just such a weird feeling if that's the only thing you've known, that's the only thing that you've wanted to do for the rest of your life. And I didn't have a clue what, what I'd do afterwards. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Now you got a job as a mechanic straight away? 

KIEL:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  When you got out. It didn’t work out though? 

KIEL:  No, definitely not. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What happened? 

KIEL:  I started drinking a lot to sort of combat my anxiety at the time.  My anxiety sort of fuelled depression the next day so I'd wake up and start my day with drugs, just to get out of the house pretty much, so…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of drugs? 

KIEL:  Pretty much anything to be honest. At that point I was very depressed you know, so anything that, to get some kind of life into me I guess, some kind of feeling.  I'd become very, I don't know, I just didn't have much emotion about me. Pretty much just a zombie to be honest and so that… 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you weren't prepared at all? 

KIEL:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  When you got out? 

KIEL:  No, not at all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Like you hadn't - had you sought out any help in Defence while you were there?

KIEL:  My discharge was quite quick because I thought at that stage the military was the problem, so I figured getting out of the military, sweet, I'll be right, I'll go start a new life. This is, this is the thing that's obviously doing this to my head so I'll leave. I'll leave and I'll try something else. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How many jobs did you apply for after that in your first year? 

KIEL:  After that I was still living out in Roma at the time so I moved from Roma to the Gold Coast and within, within about twelve months I'd applied for close to 150 jobs with two interviews. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of jobs were they? 

KIEL:  Anything. Any trade jobs, any labouring jobs.  I got to a point where I was, I was applying for jobs at Dreamworld in cafes, in bars, just anything to be honest, at Woolworths, at Mackers. I just wanted a start anywhere. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of reasons were you given?  Were you given any reason for why? 

KIEL:  No, nothing.  It's a massive hit to, to someone that used to be so proud of what they were doing and what kind of person they were becoming and then getting out of the military and realising you can't get a job on the council or can't get a start anywhere, can't even get an interview, that's a massive, massive hit to your, to your self-esteem. Obviously just went downhill from there and from there I didn't work for two and a half, three years. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you ended up at CentreLink, is that right? 

KIEL:  Yeah, correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was that like? 

KIEL:  Whoa, yeah, it wasn't nice. I was so, so broke at the time, hey, I just had no money at all. I remember standing at the line and the first time I went into CentreLink and man, I was so close to just breaking down, hey, it just made me feel so sick and then from there it just, just got worse for me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I'm interested in what you both think about this, you know, what do you think that you, all the skills you thought you had to bring to civilian life when you got out? 

JAMES:  Risk management, managerial, leadership, lateral thinking, you name it. I thought I was the perfect employee.  I was just, which frankly I am, but I thought I was just short on skills and all I'd need is a couple of weeks to be brushed up on skills, anything, any skills and I'd be killing it. The sad fact is that it didn't seem like society just really cared about military service. It didn't really seem to mean anything to a lot of employers. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you just didn't think those skills were appreciated? 

JAMES:  No, I don't think that they're understood by the larger civilian community at all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what was on your resumé Kiel? 

KIEL:  My resumé was, to me was quite impressive, but obviously, obviously not enough, yeah. It's still confusing, I still don't get it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Still don't get it? 

KIEL:  Yeah, no, not at all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about you James, do you get it? 

JAMES:  I had two resumés, they were both professionally written and I don't get it, I don't understand. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Paul, you'd nearly finished your apprenticeship as an electrician when you joined the Navy when you were 23. Now you bailed on that apprenticeship? 

PAUL:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  To sign up.  Why? 

PAUL:  Yeah, I was a third year electrical apprentice and I was at Box Hill TAFE in Melbourne and there was a trade school that had a Defence Force recruiting tent and I was actually approached by one of the Defence Force recruiters asking me about my trade and where I was and then showed me the path of the Navy and what I could accomplish in the Navy as a marine technician.

Because I had a thousand hours logged profiling with an electrician, he said that I'd get fast tracked in my stream of work if I chose to, be available for a quicker promotion and I don't know, all the benefits sort of just got rambled off to me and that's sort of why I chose to leave my apprenticeship. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Let's take a look and how the Navy was advertising at the time. 




AMY: My name is leading seaman Amy Campbell and I'm a marine technician in the Navy. 

DAVE: My name is Dave Pinnion, I'm a petty officer and marine technician. 

AMY:  The role of a marine technician within the Navy team is to uphold the engineering integrity of the ship, to keep the ship running while it's at sea, to perform maintenance and to also keep an operational watch on all the operating engineering systems. 

DAVE:  You operate, maintain and drive everything from propulsion, to power generation, power distribution. 

AMY:  Some of the engines I've worked on are as big as large trucks and that for me is the most exciting part. 

DAVE:  The most exciting aspect of my job is being in charge of all of this machinery. I've got a diploma in engineering, I've got a certificate 4 in electrical engineering. 

AMY:  I have received a trade in engineering now. My trade is a mechanical fitter. When we're living ashore we do get benefits to help pay for our housing. 

DAVE:  They pay my rent, I've got free medical, free dental. 




JENNY BROCKIE:  Paul, is that what it was like? 

PAUL:  No, not at all. So I went and did the aptitude test to see if I was right for the job, was made highly desirable, went straight into service and about thirty days into recruit school got pulled aside with the other MTs who had joined up and taken into a simmer and they told us that we were now a new branch and we were going to be a thing called an MTO which instead of marine technician is just a marine technician operator. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What's the difference? 

PAUL:  Well at that stage I didn't know and the Navy didn't know, so we were the guinea pigs so we were the first ones and yeah, that's what we got told. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you didn't get to do the job that you'd signed up to do? 

PAUL:  No, not at all. So…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you end up doing? 

PAUL:  So I was told that I wasn't qualified to pick up hand tools and I should just sweep the yard, and that's pretty shit because I was a third year tradesman and I'd more technical and trade experience in my little finger than a lot of the guys working in there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what qualifications did you come out with? 

PAUL:  I left May last year and I came out with nothing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  After five years? 

PAUL:  Yep, and like the biggest sort of kick in the stomach is I tried to do everything I could to upskill myself and like I never like sat around and didn't do anything. I spent four and a half years on patrol boats doing off resolute, part of every engineering package, did all the work that was ever required of me, always had really good reporting periods, always told that, you know, I exceeded expectations and then to walk out with nothing, yeah, it's pretty disappointing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what are you doing now that you're out? 

PAUL:  So I've gone back to electrical but because I wasn't allowed to work on any electrical systems in the Navy, I actually have to start my apprenticeship again. So I'm back as a first year, so I'm thirty in a first year. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  After doing three years that didn't count? 

PAUL:  No, because the continuum of training changes over time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Over time? 

PAUL:  Yeah, because I was almost in the Navy for sort of six years and away from electrical for that time, even though I've passed everything up to a third year, I've got to do the lot again. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what's that like being back, being first year apprentice after having dropped, you know, you bailed after three years…

PAUL:  Yeah, humiliating, like yeah, kills your confidence, it was my 30th in March and one of the other first year apprentices hit me up and goes oh, did you think you'd be 30 in first year apprentice and I said no, I didn't actually.  I thought I was going a really different way and as I said I was always good at my job. You know, military or Navy, it’s expectations and accountability.  You know, they have expectations of you.  If you don't fulfil them you get held accountable. But them being an employer, you still have expectations of them, the only difference is you can't hold them accountable and it just comes back to like, you know, I look at all the Navy values and I think like what a load of shit because if it doesn't come from the top that they can't uphold their own values, how are we meant to, you know, deliver them? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Stewart, you're running a class action against the Defence Department that involves Paul and 300 other sailors.  What are you claiming in that class action? 

STEWART:  We're claiming that they basically conned by the kind of advertising they've seen to sign up for a four year term on the promise of getting a Certificate 4 in Engineering in circumstances where there was no genuine intention or resourcing of the Navy to be able to deliver on that marketing campaign. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much training did you actually get in the end, Paul? 

PAUL:  Very little to none at all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Talissa, you were a medic in the Army for seven years, you joined when you were 20 and you serve in Afghanistan as well. How did you manage with day-to-day civilian life once you left the Army? 

TALISSA:  I certainly had many challenges sort of managing in the civilian sort of society. I medically discharged so, for mental health, so I think part of my transition was obviously affected by my mental health conditions. Um, but there were many, many…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of things did you struggle with, day-to-day, just practical things? 

TALISSA:  Yeah, well, when you're in the military so your health care is completely provided for so certainly once you leave Defence learning to navigate the civilian health system is completely new. You know, you might be in your late 20s but you've never done it, you don't know what Medicare is, you don't know what private health insurance is so there's all of that aspect. And even right down to banking, the bank, they have their own banks on the base and that's what I banked through and I had to walk out when I was 27 and walk into Westpac and say I'm really sorry, I don't know how to, I don't know how to bank because they do it differently on the bases. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Brendon, you were in the Army for thirteen years, how did you make the transition? 

BRENDON:  I guess my transition was very different. I did a lot of research and I guess I'd made some decisions prior to discharging so I'd set myself up and I guess I was a bit more ready for the process to occur. I guess a bit more experience behind me, I'd done twelve years nine months full time Army and I'd seen people go through the struggles so I took on the gravity of that and made sure when I made a decision that it was the right decision for myself and my family. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you went straight to a job, yeah? 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of job? 

BRENDON:  I was lucky enough to get employment as a fire fighter with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services so yeah, it was pretty straight forward transition. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you relate to any of this?  Can you understand? 

BRENDON:  Yeah, absolutely. I was a soldier through and through. What people need to understand, being a soldier is not just a job, it's a complete persona, it's a sense of identity, it's a comprehensive lifestyle so when you give that up and move away from it, we volunteer to do what we do, there's a tremendous amount of pride that's associated with that so when that's taken away from you or you move on from it, you know, there's definitely a phase where you've got to adjust your expectations and for myself it was made easier going to the role that I'm in now because I take a lot of pride in that role as well and um, yeah, you just, you've definitely got to take that into consideration. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Pennie, what about you? You left the Army two years ago after nineteen years of service. How are you getting on with civilian life? 

PENNIE:  I had a big struggle. I was also medically discharged, it was never my plan to leave the Army, I was one who expected to be serving until I was retiring. So it wasn't what I wanted, which made it a lot harder. I was discharged with both physical and mental health injuries and at the time of my discharge things weren't going right for me. It was probably my darkest time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How did you deal with that? Were you working or trying to get a job? 

PENNIE:  No, no, I was not in any state to be working unfortunately and I was ready to give up. It was probably, probably a good year after my discharge when I found an advocate who knew the DVA system and knew how to sort of link me in with more support that things started to turn around for me. I had difficulties finding a psychologist who would accept a DVA client because the paperwork was too much for them. There's lots of little things that made it really difficult.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you know how to be a civilian do you think? 

PENNIE:  I still don't know.  It's been two years and I still don't know.  Like it's a very different mentality, it's hard to adjust to. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jacqui Lambi, you were in the Army for ten years as a truck driver and in the military police. Were you prepared for life after the Army? 

JACQUI:  Oh, it is really, really difficult. First of all you get a lot of psychological crap that they throw at you from the day you walk into military training. You know, they really put you up on a pedestal, they have to do that and I gather, I can see their thought process behind that for when you get into war so you've basically got no fear.  You're standing there and you're bullet proof and all this.

And you know, even to the point where I'm not sure if they still do it but back in my day employees, don't take this the wrong way but civilians were, you were second class citizens, that's what we were told. So can you imagine telling us that and putting that in our brains to start with and then when we come out we're actually looking down on you. Yet we're not getting anything that we need. We can't get a job.  People, you know, even to the point, I think it comes down to a lot of politicians as well, we don't have anything in place for the transition. It's the diggers that play the price, it's not so much the officers.  The officers will go in there and make sure that they've got the education or the university degrees that they need.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Brad, you were a medic in the Army for eleven years, what happened when you left? 

BRAD:  So I think to start with my reasons for leaving were different. I love the Army, I loved that job, I still do, then my daughter was born and for me the second she was born, I realised instantly that the Army was a second priority for me and I set a plan in place to leave. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was the plan? 

BRAD:  Basically to clear all my leave and during that nine month period to try and work out what I was going to do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you think it went so well? 

BRAD:  I'd planned for it.  I had, I'd done a lot of study, I'm an officer but I had studied while I was in the Army. I knew that one day I would get out of the Army and that I would need some sort of piece of paper behind me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what did you study? 

BRAD:  Paramedic degree.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Were there adjustments you had to make when you made out? 

BRAD:  Yeah, absolutely.   So you know, for me leadership is a big skill that we take out of the Army, whether you're a corporal or a colonel or a general, your leadership skills are very good. So the lack of leadership and the lack of integrity, when I first got into the civilian world, as has been articulated a couple of times, that was really hard to deal with. Just that people would, you know, I went from an organisation where people would give their lives for you or take extra weight off you to make sure you weren't carrying extra, to knifing you in the back just to get a corner office so that was different, that was a different organisation. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You served in Afghanistan and Timor, East Timor.  What sort of the things were you exposed to during your time there? 

BRAD:  Same, similar exposures to everyone else, the whole time you're there, particularly Afghanistan, you're at risk and we had quite a lot of trauma, particularly with the locals, so we were dealing with that fairly heavily. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And did that affect you beyond your, I mean how did that impact on you? 

BRAD:  Does it affect me now? No, but I'm very fortunate and I feel very lucky to be able to say that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what about your colleagues and friends who were with you and exposed to exactly the same things, I mean how did they respond? 

BRAD:  For a variety.  You know, ranging from people like myself who feel reasonably okay, very lucky to do that, to severely affected, to taking their own lives.   You know, we've lost a couple of our mates to suicide now who were on our team so, you know, there is that range within the same guys.  You can have four different people be exposed to the exact same situation and we're going to have four very different responses. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are there other things that you can point to as to why you think that you've been able to not be as affected by those things as some of your friends? 

BRAD:  I guess just lucky. I shut the door to a lot of that stuff once I left the Army so once I left the Army that chapter and that phase of my life is done. The outcome was the outcome and we deal with that and we atone for that over our time, but I can't get the next thirty years worrying about that. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Kiel, your response to that, hearing that story? 

KIEL:  I just wish I could think like that, you know?

JENNY BROCKIE:  What happened to you in Afghanistan? 

KIEL:  So the first deployment in 2008, the last day of the last patrol I was blown up by an IUD.  I was driving, I was driving a bush master, no one severely hurt or anything. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So this is an improvised device that you drove over? 

KIEL:  Yeah, correct, yeah.  No one severely hurt, there were a few minor injuries and stuff like that but I was knocked unconscious and on my return to Australia found out that I'd fractured my neck, fractured two vertebra in my neck and had a bit of back drama and a bit of hip drama from that, so, but being in the military I kept all of that to myself, you know?  I went and saw my own specialist, I went and saw my own GP out of the military, I didn't tell anyone about that because I was keen to get back overseas again, you know, and…

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what happened on the second tour? 

KIEL:  The second tour, oh, yeah, and again towards the end, yeah, it's still, it's still very hard to talk about but in the end, um, a local died and I think that weighed very heavy on my conscience from the get go and even then I didn't tell anyone about that. I didn't tell, didn't tell my mates how it affected me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How did it affect you? 

KIEL:  Oh, mentally it was huge, mentally, I think, I think looking back now that's the reason why I got out of the Army and I think that was the turning point for me when I got back, got back from Afghanistan and realised the Army wasn't for me anymore which was disappointing in itself because I thought I'd do that forever. When things start changing in your life like that, you just don't know what to do. You know, you had a direction in mind, and I can speak for pretty much everyone here I think, especially military, ex-military whoever it is, very goal focused and very good planners and we can plan things and you can plan a few years down the track. But when all that stops due to a mental condition, it is just the most confusing thing and going from, I don't know, trying to live from then on is extremely difficult. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How bad did it get for you? 

KIEL:  So there was a point for, not a point, I guess close to twelve months where I was that angry every time I woke up, you know, because, because I just, at that point just didn't care about myself. I felt ... I felt as though I'd failed myself in some way. People that looked up to me for being in the military, I failed them. I was just so ashamed of myself and my poor girlfriend she had to, she got to a point in our relationship where she was too scared to get me out of bed.

I used to have extreme anger which even now I look back and that was a couple of years ago now and I'm still ashamed about that.  If it wasn't for her I was happy to keep going down the path that I was going and I wouldn't be here without a doubt. I was lucky enough to have someone in my life like that that would stick around.  Everyone else, everyone else kept trying, my parents kept trying but you know what you're like with your parents. So I was just lucky to have my girlfriend and realising in that point that I'd, that I'd affected her so much was a turning point for me. I thought wow, I just need to stop this, you know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Brendon, you were talking earlier about leaving, about planning to leave and going to your job as a fire fighter. Was that all off your own bat that you did all that planning and made those plans, or was it driven by Defence as well? 

BRENDON:  That wasn't driven by Defence. My story is similar to Brad's.  I loved being a soldier, I loved my job, because of some family consideration, young children as well and I wanted more of a stable lifestyle for the kids. I wanted more engagement with the community and just a bit more of a sense of belonging in that regard. So Defence certainly didn't drive me away. I didn't gravitate straight towards being a fire fighter, I examined a variety of different roles and I looked for traits within those roles that I believed would be suitable and that would give me satisfaction in employment into the future as well as stability for my family. So yeah, there was definitely a stage there of research and of my own undertaking to achieve that, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why did you choose firefighting? 

BRENDON:  It's a fantastic job, what can I say. I was a medic in the Army as well so there's an element where I can still use those skills. It's chaotic in its nature and you're put right in the middle of that. You work in a small team and as Brad's spoken about, you're bonded in that team and you're relying on each other to resolve the issues. Ultimately you're helping people. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you apply for lots of other jobs, did you put your resumé around? 

BRENDON:  Yeah, I'd applied for jobs all over the place, oil and gas industry, middle management positions, you know, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what sort of responses did you get? 

BRENDON:  Yeah, not much at all and I did similar amounts of research, I tailored my resumés to those particular organisations. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Presumably, I mean you're all team players in a tense and that's what, you know, corporates and various organisations say they really want - team players. 

BRENDON:  Yes.  In terms of military personnel, like for prospective employers if you want someone to take on the job, to break it down and then just to attack it and see it right through to the end, whilst they're well presented, well spoken, on time, respectful, you know, you won't get a better employee than a service personnel to fill that role and, you know, that's the void that we have at the moment. We're just getting employment agencies, organisations to understand the value that service personnel can have in the civilian world. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you think that you're not getting that response that you want?

BRENDON:  It's just an understanding gap in between and the more programs like this that we have, the more stories that come forward and we sell the value of veterans and how they can contribute to society after their careers, that's where we're at. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Garth, what happened when you left the military? 

GARTH:  Look, I definitely saw that there were, that there were barriers to getting appropriate employment. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of barriers? 

GARTH:  Mainly society's perception of the military. When you leave the military to go to a civilian employer they don't understand what you've done in the military. They can't translate your rank, your experience, your service into something that they can bring to their workplace. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You now run a veteran employment program for the New South Wales government? 

GARTH:  I do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  In your experience in that job, how do you think most employers view veterans? 

GARTH:  Can I give you an example of the biggest problem I think? So my, my first week in this job, somebody gave me a CV, one of the HR staff gave me a CV and said can you please tell me what this means. And the first sentence of it was:  I was the operations warrant officer of the fifth battalion, and there are two significant issues there. One is that that person thought that somebody reading that their CV would learn something - would know what that means.

Now as an ex-military guy I know so much about that person just by that one sentence and they obviously expected other people to draw from that. The HR person had absolutely no idea what that meant so I think there's two distinct problems there. One is that military people struggle to translate their own skills into something which a civilian employer can use and conversely, a civilian employer, a lot of the time doesn't have a fundamental understanding of what rank translates to in regard to experience and employability. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you think they think it's a risk to employ a veteran? 

GARTH:  I think there is a lot of rhetoric around, can I start by saying I'm an ex-military commander. I'm really sorry for what you guys have been through. As a military commander I feel somewhat responsible by, I think by nature of that, that you guys have had such a rough time coming out. Your class action sounds solid, good luck and that sounds like you had a really rough trot with that. But I would say that what we've got here does not represent a cross section of the contemporary veteran community. So what we've got here is one, two, three, four, five, six veterans who had a really rough time and one, two, three who had quite a good time. Maybe some bumpy bits along the way but actually the numbers are more like 20 percent are medically discharged, 80 percent voluntary discharge and of that 20 percent only a fraction of that are severely incapacitated.

So getting back to your point, I think that there is a really strong rhetoric around the fact that veterans as a whole - bring baggage.  That they, there’s wide spread mental health issues and I think that makes it really hard, particularly from an employment perspective for when you sit in front of an employer, they might be the best employer in the world but if they have in the back of their mind, even subconsciously, that this person is a military person and maybe they're a bit broken, that's going to mean that they're going to employ somebody else who doesn't have that cloud over them, as opposed to the veteran. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What happened to you when you were serving in Bagdad? 

GARTH:  My first deployment in Bagdad in 2004, I was injured in a improvised explosive device attack and medically evacuated to Australia. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  There's a shot there of how badly injured you were, what were your injuries? 

GARTH:  So I had secondary burns to my face and neck, I had fragmentation wounds to my face and neck. Yeah, that's straight after, thank you. That's straight after the incident so my blokes got me into hospital within about fifteen minutes so you can see I've got a haematoma on the side of my neck which they were worried was going to cut off the blood supply to my brain and I had fragmentation wounds which had fractured the bone between my sinus and my brain as well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of shape were you in then when you left the Army? 

GARTH:  Pretty good. Actually I've got a few quirks, the human body…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you mean a few quirks?  Is that an understatement? 

GARTH:  Got pins and needles down here which I always have. I don't have the best sense of smell and saying this on national television, I have incontinence, faecal incontinence which is manageable day-to-day but is a, I just need to know where a toilet is most times. So if you see me duck off you'll know what I'm up to. Somehow I've just taken this downhill very quickly, but…

JENNY BROCKIE:  You're making very, not light of this but you know, you seem to be…

GARTH:  It was nearly twelve years ago.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And do you have any sense yourself of why you think you've been able to move on with your life? 

GARTH:  I think there's an aspect of support throughout the entire incident and throughout my entire recovery. So at no stage did I ever feel like I was not being supported, I think that probably plays a part.

JENNY BROCKIE:  James, after you left the Army, you made a claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs for PTSD and chronic adjustment disorder. What was that process like? 

JAMES:  When I, when I was leaving the Army I put in some claims to DVA through an advocacy group at the RSL. I put in a claim for a bad back, for bad knees, a bad shoulder and I thought while I was at it, considering that afternoon I'd thrown a phone across the room at one of my soldiers, I should put in for the fact that I was having a little bit of a problem managing my temper. After all that it took about a year to hear back, by the time I'd heard back the doctor just went well sorry mate, there's not a lot I can do, that claim was, was rejected. It's still on my to do list three years later to go back and revisit that but I find the entire process of dealing with DVA is very overwhelming and I can't do it.  I get my partner to talk to DVA on my behalf and I think the fact that there are advocacy groups is great but surely that's intrinsic of some kind of problem where a veteran can't talk directly to the literal department of Veterans Affairs without having an absolute terrible time. I could talk to ten different people and get ten different incorrect answers. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jacqui Lambi, you made a claim to DVA too? 

JACQUI: From day one, I had Veterans affairs all over the top of me like a bitch and there’s no other way to put it and it made my life miserable and I don’t know what else to say about it. My claims are still going seventeen years later but my last claim, and I haven't been very successful with mine, I've only had very small payments. I found them, they did everything from some video surveillance on me to review.  I had to take them through the AAT. I tried myself for a year to fill out the forms, I tried to see advocates down in Tasmania which was very difficult, and then in the end I ended up having to pay a lawyer to do that. That still took me a seven year turn around before I went to the AAT itself where basically said to Veterans Affairs you will pay her. You will help her. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you think of the system as it stands now? 

JACQUI:  The system is extremely broken.  The system will not be fixed, there is a culture in the system and this is what they call it, it's called delay, deny, die.  They will delay you with everything they have, they will deny you with everything they have and then you can guess what the third one is, and that's what we all call them and that is very true of the out pact. It should not take two years.  On average, on average I had twenty two men standing in a room that all served in war in the past fifteen years and on average it had taken them five years to get their gold card and some of them had done four tours and they were still fighting. I mean how injured do these people need to be? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Liz, you're the chief operating officer for the DVA, response to this, to these criticisms? 

LIZ:  Thank you, I agree it shouldn't take two years and some of our veterans and their families have had some really difficult time navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs, and so for the last twelve months to eighteen months what we've been doing is actually listening to the experience of our veterans and their family to try and understand how we need to change our department. And I acknowledge it's not just IT, it's more than that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how many IT systems do you have? 

LIZ:  We have about 200. 

JENNY BROCKIE: 200 IT systems? 

LIZ:  Yes, and some instances our staff have to log onto eight different systems to get a view on one claim for one individual that might come to them. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How on earth has it got to that point? 

LIZ:  Unfortunately over many years we haven't had the investment in information technology.   We just, this budget is the first year in many years we've actually got money to look at our IT and to improve it. But it's not just the IT, as the Senator said, it's also about improving our processes to streamline them. But also supporting our staff in understanding how they can be better connect with a veteran, not look at it as a process or a claim or a transaction, that they're an individual. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Is there a culture problem?  Is there a culture problem in the department? 

LIZ:  Some veterans have had poor experience with adversarial, adversarial experiences in the department and I'll acknowledge that. But the majority of our staff want to work in the department because they genuinely want to support veterans and we're not giving them the tools or the systems to do that. So we are trying to change the system. It's not going to happen overnight but we are listening to what our veterans are experiencing and we do want to change. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why should veterans need advocates? 

LIZ:  Exactly, exactly. So that's where we're aiming so we don't need advocates, that veterans and their families can work directly with us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yes Talissa? 

TALISSA:  I think it's, we're sort of touched on and I can see sort of some of the civilians here thinking how did it get to the point that it is and I think it's really important to take a look at the history and realise that prior to East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Australian Defence Force went through a thirty year period of peace time. And so therefore, the transition needs, the medical needs and even just, you know, the generational differences meant that transition was different. What has happened of course now is the military is a different place and people's transitions are very different now and their medical needs.  You're starting to see a lot more complex cases so all…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Were you prepared for that Liz? 

TALISSA:  Agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs were not, I don't know that the Department of Defence are necessarily prepared for the changes that have come out. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was Veterans Affairs prepared for this? 

LIZ:  So we were certainly prepared we need to reinvent ourselves.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Pennie, when you left the Army after nineteen years, having joined at 17, you approached your local RSL for help, is that right? 

PENNIE:  Yes, my sub-branch. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What happened? 

PENNIE:  I was basically advised that I could join the women's auxiliary and help raise money by doing bake stalls and that sort of thing, and what I was actually doing was reaching out for help because I was not coping. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How did you react to that, being told that by the RSL? 

PENNIE:  Not well, not well at all and being recognised as a female veteran, it's not necessarily that we want to be recognised but…

LIZ:  Respected? 

PENNIE:  Respected, yes, thank you.  We served as well. For instance, at my children's school recently for their Anzac Day service this year, my two sons wore miniature medals on the right-hand side and there was again sub-branch members from the local area at the school and they pulled my boys up, and the gentleman said: Now who can guess whose medals these boys are wearing and the kids who know me, it's a small school, said their mums, their mum's, and the man said no, who could they really be wearing?  Whose could they really be? It just is really hard to get through people's minds that women have served as well. Women have been in conflict, women have been in all sorts of areas in all the services so it's time to realise that and respect that and make available the same support to women that there is to men. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Absolutely. Talissa, you also approached the RSL, what response did you get? 

TALISSA:  I think the RSL, like many other of the charities and many of the other government organisations, needs to realise that the demographic for veterans has changed. That we're getting a lot more younger veterans, we are getting more female veterans and that they need to start trying to move with the times a little bit more.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Robert, you're the new national president of the RSL, does your organisation understand the modern veterans? 

ROBERT: Look, I think we've got to accept that a lot of advocates that a lot of young people go to see are from the Vietnam veteran era and they're aging and a lot of those people find it very hard to accept that the military is different today than what it was when they served. There were very few females served at that time and recognising the female veteran and it's one of my big issues that you know, whether your male or female, if you've served in the military, you are due just as much respect as any other person that's pulled on a uniform and that is a culture that I'm trying and promoting to change within the RSL. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What's the average age of your members? 

ROBERT: The average age of the members would be around about 68 years old. There are a lot of younger veterans. 


ROBERT: 68. There are a lot of younger veterans coming on board with the RSL and they're taking up positions within sub-branches and I would like to see a lot more of the young female veterans coming on board and bringing their ideas forward so that we can bring the RSL into the 21st century. 

JACQUI:  At your national conference you could put a quota in, you could do that this year.   You could put a quote in of the females you want on your board to represent. 

ROBERT: Can I suggest you wait to see what our agenda is? 

JACQUI:  Okay. 

ROBERT: At the national conference. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Can I ask how much you guys, how much you guys relate to the RSL? 

BRAD:  Well we just asked then who's a member of the RSL member, I can't think of a single soldier I know of. 

KIEl:  I'm not a member of an RSL. I actually went, when I was seeking help I went to an RSL and sort of the same as Pennie over there, they sort of turned me away. My view of the place was just beers and pokies to be honest. But in…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about the rest of you? I mean…

BRAD:  I just don't understand what the mission of the RSL is. You know, none of the soldiers from our generation seem to have any contact with them and…

PENNIE:  I think their mission was very lost somewhere along the line. 

BRAD:  And we don't see it so we've the CEO here, what is the mission statement of the RSL? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What is the mission? 

ROBERT: The mission of the RSL is the same as it was a hundred years ago, is to support those that have served in the Australian Defence force, regardless of gender, if they have an issue they come to the RSL and we support. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But they're not feeling that support? Garth, what do you think? 

GARTH:  Look I think it's a, we are at the cusp of a generational change. I hope we're at the cusp of a generational change with the RSL. I think NSW RSL, the recent elections are a great example of that. Female on the board, a swag of contemporary veterans on the board and I think the advocacy network as well suffers from that too.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jacqui, what do you think of the RSL? 

JACQUI:  I don't have a lot of nice things to say and I've made it quite clear about that so I'm going to be very careful.  They've lost their way - they did a long time ago. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Are you hopeful there's change? 

JACQUI:  Um, I think they're going to need to rebrand and I think they need to take Mates are Mates and Soldier On up at the table because we don't want to drink your beers and we don't want to play your poker. Alright, and we want to know where all the money's going that you're raising because it's certainly not helping our veterans and we're certainly not getting paid advocates in those RSLs. So our questions would be where has all the money gone? Where's all the money gone and I think that's a fair question because it's not helping my mates, it didn't help me and it hasn't helped them.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, Robert? 

ROBERT: If I can comment quickly.  There were issues, allegations raised in New South Wales against certain things and that is currently under investigation with a board of inquiry that's been established up there and the RSL has been fully supportive of all the administrative departments, whether they be government, the police and so on.  We're fully supportive of what they're doing and we will continue to do that.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What are the key things you'd like to see changed?  What would you like to see changed Garth? 

GARTH:  Shift in perception in the broader society of what a contemporary veteran is. I'd love that to start in an employment realm. If people understand what a veteran brings to the workforce they'll start to understand more about how they, what their place is in current society. I believe they're pillars in society rather than anything else. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  The rest of you, what would you like to see change, Kiel? 

KIEL:  To be honest I think it all starts at the transition phase, you know, we need places like Mates Are Mates, Soldier on, whatever it is, integrated within the military basis, whether that's Army, Navy, Air Force, whatever it is, it needs to starts there before people get out, before it's a massive problem.  


JAMES:  Yeah, my biggest thing is the civilian perception of what ex-military can bring to the table. Even if they are having some mental health issues, as long as they're in the right place mentally and emotionally, going back to work can be a really powerful rehabilitation tool, that's what I've found in my personal experience. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Talissa, what would you like to see changed? 

TALISSA:  I'm fairly in favour of some form of a third party transition program that's sort of outsourced and something that tries to skill the veteran and their families.  We've not talked about families at all but they go through a massive transition themselves. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So something not run by Defence? 

TALISSA:  Yes, something that's subcontracted and something that could be run by ESOs. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Anyone else?  Jacqui, what would you like to see changed? 

JACQUI:  I want to make sure before they can get to transition they've got their civilian equivalent qualifications, that’s their first hurdle.   Then they obviously need that help with that transition, whether that be a job course set up to help them do that. The other thing is these veteran centres need to be a one stop shop. There should be advocates in there, there should be psychologists and psychiatrists.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Brad, what would you like to see changed? 

BRAD:  Just that ex-service men and women feel empowered to seek help. The current, you know, we've talked about a lot tonight, the current issues are there but it all starts with us and we have to feel empowered to ask for help and reach out when we need it and take ownership of our own destiny, not let others drive it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Thank you all so much for joining us, really good to have you here and for sharing your stories, and that is all we have time for here.  I should point out we did invite the Defence Department to join us tonight, they declined which is a shame. They did provide us with a lengthy general statement which you can find now on our website. Let's keep talking about this on Twitter and on Facebook. Thanks everyone, thank you.