Wounded injured and ill forum 2016
About 40 wounded, injured and ill soldiers, from units across Australia, and 20 partners or family members, joined nearly 100 guests, including representatives from Navy and Air Force, for the three-day event.
The theme of the forum was ‘rehabilitation and return to work’ with an emphasis on improving support and services to empower individuals and their families to lead their own recovery journey.
In his welcoming address Chief of Army Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Angus Campbell said Army was committed to assisting those who became wounded, injured or ill.
“A considerable effort is ongoing in trying to support people to rebuild their lives and preferably continue to serve but, if that is not possible, to transition with dignity,” he said.
“This includes supporting those with ailments we can see, and just as importantly those we cannot see, such as degenerative injuries, pain syndromes, traumatic brain injury and mental health conditions.
“I want to know how we can do this better and I want to ensure we are not putting rules in place that stop an individual driving their own future.
“This forum is an important opportunity to listen and learn from our soldiers and their families.”
During the forum, Lt-Gen Campbell discussed recent welfare initiatives for Army including the establishment of unit welfare officers, which was a suggestion raised at previous forums.
He said a dedicated unit welfare officer would be established in Army units by reassigning personnel from the existing manning.
“I have asked this to be undertaken over a two-year period as a trial and potentially a transition period,” he said.
“What I am aspiring to see is the effect of a unit welfare officer may be made redundant by the quality, simplicity and easy access to pathways to connect people to sites of awareness and opportunity, whether they be transitioning or rehabilitating.
“The COs will be involved in the selection of these individuals, which will be based on their maturity, emotional intelligence, competence and
In line with the new positions, Forcomd is developing a unit welfare officer course to be conducted on a regional basis.
Army Headquarters (AHQ) is producing a welfare manual describing a best practice approach to welfare case management and the resources available to support individual welfare plans.
AHQ is also piloting the development of the Transition for Employment Program to provide a rehabilitation tool for complex wounded, injured and ill soldiers transitioning out of Army and a trial is under way to confirm the program’s fitness for purpose and viability.
Minister for Defence Personnel Dan Tehan attended the forum with representatives of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He congratulated Army for continuing to ensure it was effective in the management and rehabilitation of wounded, injured and ill soldiers.
“The best way we can do that is by bringing people together and listening, to try to understand what the experience is of those who are going through the system and ways we can improve it,” he said.
Sergeant (Sgt) Cheyne Truelove, of 2GHB, was invited to the forum with his wife Christina and said it was a great initiative for Army.
“It was a good opportunity to voice my own ideas and concerns with the rehabilitation process and learn what challenges soldiers across Australia faced,” he said.
“My experience with PTSD began in 2007, but I didn’t actually present or begin treatment until 2014.
“The illness had been brewing in the background for seven years, though I didn’t know what was going on.
“Once I sought medical assistance the process of healing took just over 12 months.”
Sgt Truelove said one of the main factors contributing to his PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse was the death of his mate, Trooper David Pearce, during their deployment to Afghanistan in 2007.
“At the time I didn’t really understand what was wrong with me,” he said.
“There was once a culture of stigma, so there was no way I was going to see a psychologist back then.
“I’ve deployed to Afghanistan three times and I have lost other mates, though not in the same circumstances, as I was there when Poppy died.
“It all contributed to my illness and eventually it all came out.”
Sgt Truelove said the culture of acceptance for mental illness within Defence had definitely changed.
“The leaders who have been brave enough to talk openly about their experiences in receiving treatment gave me the trust to seek help for myself,” he said.
“The more times Army shows examples of positive rehabilitation, the easier it will be to destigmatise mental health issues.
“The key factor contributing to the success of my rehabilitation was my OC’s level of emotional intelligence, along with her ability to help me create my own recovery plan.
“With the support of my chain of command I remained on full duties in my normal role as a RAEME workshop sergeant, which was beneficial during my recovery.
“I was still around the guys at work and felt like I had a purpose. If I had been sent home to recover it would not have been good for me. It was very empowering and helped me get to where I am today – fully deployable.”
Sgt Truelove said he was impressed with the initiative of a dedicated welfare officer in Army units.
“During the forum I suggested the initiative could be expanded to have a unit welfare team with extra regimental positions for different ranks,” he said.
“I know some of my soldiers would respond differently to an NCO, rather than a commissioned officer.
“There are obviously a lot of resources and assistance available to support people, but there needs to be more of a human connection through the chain of command to the wounded, injured and ill soldiers.”