Wounded, Injured and Ill Diggers' Forum 2012
This year’s forum focused on mental health injuries and the treatment, rehabilitation and recovery from the perspective of members and their families. Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison AO said the forum would improve support to members suffering from mental health injuries.
“It will provide a better understanding of the complexity of mental health issues affecting members, families and commanders,” he said.
Defence Science and Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon said the forum emphasised the valuable contribution participants made in improving the system and establishing a legacy for soldiers who may be wounded, injured or ill in the future.
“The forum provides an excellent opportunity to ensure we listen and learn from our people to continuously improve and maintain a comprehensive and integrated approach to the support of the personnel and their family,” he said.
Captain Ash Judd was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) several months after returning from combat operations in Afghanistan in 2009.
“If more people are prepared to come out and say ‘I had a mental health injury but I’ve now rehabilitated’ it would be another brick out of that wall of silence,” according to Captain Judd.
“I deployed as part of the 7RAR battalion group from October 2008 through to June 2009,” he said.
“During that time I was involved in direct combat on a number of occasions, but I can’t say exactly what the trigger was for my injury.”
During his time in Afghanistan, Capt Judd did not think much about the long term repercussions that could affect him and focused 100 per cent on the job at hand.
He said even after returning to Australia for a few months he was feeling great and didn’t give PTSD a second thought.
“I had been on combat operations overseas which, while dangerous, was quite a rush,” he said.
“It wasn’t until later that I developed the self-awareness to realise there was a problem and by that time I had done a bit of damage to myself.”
Although not noticing his symptoms straight away, people around him, including his partner and workmates, had noticed changes in his behaviour.
Captain Judd said it had been a delicate balance of people not wanting to come down hard or punish, as they knew something was amiss.
“I sought help after that initially with the Army Psychology section in Darwin but got disillusioned with it and cut it away,” he said. “I guess you could call it my false start.”
He then sought assistance though Veterans and Veterans’ Families Counselling Service before returning to the Army to seek a managed rehabilitation plan.
By this time it was early 2010, when Captain Judd started receiving the help that got him where he is today.
Realising he needed help, his commanders assisted by giving him the time he needed for his rehabilitation.
Captain Judd said those suffering PTSD needed to treat it like any other injury, seeking treatment and support to get past it and get on with their careers.
“I’m now effectively in remission after finishing my treatment early this year,” he said.
“Treatment is still available if I need it but I’m going through a period of consolidating my recovery, ensuring I’m good to go before returning to fully deployable status.”
When asked about the stigma attached to mental health injuries, Captain Judd said it wasn’t so much about people thinking negatively of you, but how to rise above those stigma issues and come to terms with the condition.
“I am a professional infantry officer and performed my role to a high standard while deployed,” he said.
“I suffered a mental health injury, rehabilitated and am now almost 100 per cent recovered.
“You need to set a goal, especially those suffering in silence, so they can get help, support and get through it.”
Time to act
“I was initially apprehensive about effectively outing myself to other people as someone who has suffered a mental health injury when I found out I was invited to the 2012 forum,” Captain Judd said.
“But I thought it was important to take ownership of the change I wanted.
“The Army genuinely cares at the leadership level about providing the best care possible to get people back to work or effectively transition and who better to help with this process that those like me who have experienced it first-hand.”
Captain Judd said the forum had been an excellent opportunity for members and their spouses to directly engage with the senior leadership.
“I’d definitely recommend it for members towards the end of their treatment or at a stage where they can pass on their experiences with the system,” he said.
“Take every opportunity you can to advise the chain of command or be a mentor to those who are struggling.
“It will help those who come after us to not make the mistakes we have and learn from our experience.”
Asked about a message he would send to others suffering from similar injuries, Captain Judd said support was available and the prognosis for recovery was good.
“It doesn’t have to be something that marks you forever, but you need to find the courage to take the steps to seek it out,” he said.
“I urge those out there who have suffered from this to strongly consider coming forward and help provide support for those who are struggling because there is a high level of undiagnosed cases out there suffering in silence.”
• All Hours Support Line 1800 628 036 (or from overseas +61 2 9425 3878)
• Veterans and Veterans’ Families Counselling Service (VVCS) 1800 011 046
• Local medical centre
• Chain of command
• Local chaplain