PTSD Army failed troubled digger: partner

Nick McKenzie
March 10, 2008

THE girlfriend of an Australian army signaller who killed himself after enduring a fierce firefight in Afghanistan has called for an overhaul of the support system for mentally ill veterans.

Soldier Geff Gregg suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was medically discharged in May 2004. In 2002, while on secondment with an SAS patrol, he was involved in an intense firefight that left 11 Afghan villagers dead.

Mr Gregg killed himself shortly after receiving a letter warning his pension would be cut because he had missed a medical appointment.

His partner, Tobi Barnard, has revealed that three days after she informed the Department of Veterans’ Affairs about his suicide in September 2006, she was sent a letter demanding the refund of $300 it had overpaid Mr Gregg.

And she said that three days after his suicide, another letter arrived stating he would get an increased pension because of his suicidal tendencies and inability to work. It was based on an assessment sent to Veterans’ Affairs several months earlier. “Nothing was done about it. There was no red flag,” Ms Barnard told The Age.

Ms Barnard is helping launch a group, Picking up the Pieces, to support families affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and raise community awareness.

Her call for an overhaul of the support system for veterans comes amid revelations that the Australian Defence Force has held eight boards of inquiry into suspected suicides of its members since 2006, but has kept secret many of their recommendations. An ADF spokesman said that between 2001 and 2007, there were 48 suspected suicides of permanent members of the force but no existing evidence linked the number of suicides to operational service.

Another defence source with knowledge of several of the inquiries said the systemic failures uncovered needed to be aired publicly.

The Age reported on Saturday that the Federal Government had ordered a review into the mental health support given to diggers, amid estimates that up to one in 10 veterans has returned traumatised from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ms Barnard said the difficulty Mr Gregg had in getting benefits, retraining and adequate support, as well as the stress of dealing with numerous government departments, had exacerbated his suffering.

An ADF inquiry into Mr Gregg’s death has produced a report, which Ms Barnard said she would ask to be released when she meets with defence officials in a fortnight. She declined to discuss its contents.

The Age has learnt that a board of inquiry held in Brisbane last year into the suicide of a young soldier who had served in the Middle East revealed serious system failures in his treatment.

In Senate estimates hearings in May last year, the chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said the inquiries had been “very useful and … identified a number of areas where we need to improve”.

An ADF spokesman said the recommendations of past boards of inquiry would not be made public because of assurances made to families. But he said Air Chief Marshal Houston had promised to make future inquiries public.

The national president of the RSL, Major-General Bill Crews, said: “I certainly agree that (inquiries’ recommendations) should be the subject of public release.”

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Thanks to Mick Cassidy for alerting me to this

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