According to N* when I first worked out what happened to me back in 1997 I was in shock for weeks.
It took me just a few hours on a lazy afternoon in February to work it all out. On a white board at the local RSL sub-branch listening to Enigma. I called it my ‘Wacky Board’. I do more memory work that night. Found some evidence to back the memories. Get new memories.
I do the due diligence and the research. Worked out the timelines, identified the opportunities missed. Even found the exposure documented in legacy Red Cross records.
By the time I was reasonably sure that at least a company of us had been exposed I was getting very sick. My rage had dissipated. Replaced by numbness. Numbness was replaced by bitterness, grief and anger. Anger then became psychosis.
I got myself admitted three days later. As I sat in the mental health unit I waited for someone from the Army to come and interview me. Times, dates, places. Whatever I could remember.
Why me, I said? Why the fuck was it left to me to clean this up? It’s not like I owed the Army any favours. They had done a pretty good job of throwing me under a bus in the late 90s. Then the DVA piled on. It was a free-for-all.
As I await a visit from someone in authority I gather more evidence.
Waiting, waiting, waiting …
No one came to visit me in hospital in March.
I make myself sick filling out DVA paperwork in May/June. My two claims are filled with evidence supporting my mefloquine exposure.
Hurry up and wait some more …
June, July and August go by.
By September I think the DVA and the Army have forgotten me. My suspicions are confirmed when I ring my Social Worker at the DVA and she can’t even remember my name.
This should have been sorted months ago. I go bezerk again. Wind up back in hospital.
When I get out I try to get the message out without filters.
I try the fourth estate again. They are too busy getting raided by the AFP to want to hear my complex little story.
I tell the Minister. He doesn’t even bother to get back to me.
I write laments to my past to raise an eyebrow. Nothing. They start angry but as the months go by they soften. I soften. If any blame is due on this strategy it is because of my lack of writing ability, not about the story itself.
It’s now November.
The DVA get back to me with a rehabilitation plan. It doesn’t mention mefloquine.
In desperation I reach out to the Senate Committee that was supposed to investigate this back in 2018. They have limited powers now but will get back to me. When they do get back to me they encourage me to follow-up on my suppressed FOI requests as they too await a response from the DVA.
I’ve given it my all this year to try and get the message out. To the infantry company. To my two mates who surely boarded those planes with me back in 97. I wish I knew who it was but I cannot remember.
It doesn’t matter anymore. This matter needs to be included in the Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides.
I’m so tired of excuses.
It shouldn’t have been this hard.
If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.