Random Analytica

Random thoughts, charts, infographics & analysis. Not in that order

20. Mefloquine Dispatches: 1800 MEFLOQUINE, 10th May 2019

I am at the RSL sub-branch. We sit in the small office, my Advocate and I awaiting our coffees from the café next door. We chat about things that are going on in our lives. It is one of our little rituals.

The coffees arrive.

L* (my Advocate) thinks we should ring the 1800-MEFLOQUINE number today before we put in any paperwork. Mefloquine, unlike other defence related injuries has its own helpline.

I don’t handle calls to the DVA very well but L* is there to do the talking so I agree.

We call 1800-MEFLOQUINE.

The young lady who answers the phone is professional, personable, helpful but doesn’t know anything about mefloquine.

L* asks if we have a claim that is mefloquine related is there a fast-track process and is there someone available to talk us through it.

We are told that the 1800-MEFLOQUINE number is now going through to the main contact line and there are no specialists available to talk to. It seems the call-line is about to be  archived due to a lack of need.

Another frustration. L* and I put some of the paperwork through anyway. Hopefully we can get it in time to be amongst the Veterans receiving the anti-malarial health checks which we are told by the Minister will be available in July.

Several frustrating months later I am happy to report that the 1800-MEFLOQUINE number is back up and running. Also there is another commitment to the anti-malarial health checks.

Not in July 2019 as promised.

In 2020.

That aside, we are starting to make some progress. I’ll be ringing 1800-MEFLOQUINE this Thursday with a witness to formally report mefloquine exposure on Operation BARITONE..

Let’s see how they go the second time around.

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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.

19. Mefloquine Dispatches: Lord Dannatt, 28th November 2019

Over the weekend I come across a story from Britain.

Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff in the UK between 2006 and 2009, warns of a suicide epidemic amongst veterans during a visit to the Portsmouth-based military support group Forgotten Veterans UK.

During his visit he talks about the cost effectiveness of the work being undertaken by the charity as well as  how the government of the day and charities should be doing more. Via The News. Former British Army boss brands UK’s veteran suicide crisis the ‘epidemic of our time’. Excerpt:

Britain’s veteran suicide crisis has been branded part of the ‘epidemic of our time’ by the former head of the British Army, who admitted more needs to be done to stop traumatised troops from killing themselves.

General Lord Richard Dannatt admitted he was appalled by the number of people taking their lives in the UK and described the situation as a ‘tragedy’.

Lord Dannatt has come up on my radar previously. Not because he took mefloquine but because he refused it on health grounds. Via The Guardian. Ex-army chief apologises to troops over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:

Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff between 2006 and 2009, told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he would not take the drug because of his son’s experience with it.

Dannatt said his son Bertie had suffered mental health problems after taking two doses of Lariam before visiting Africa in the late 1990s. He was not in the armed forces at the time but had been prescribed the drug by his father’s army doctor.

He is currently the highest ranking officer on record to refuse mefloquine. Mefloquine is a drug that is known to increase the chance of suicide amongst veterans.

Oh, the hypocrisy of old Generals.

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Picture: Habibur Rahman (via The News)

 

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.

 

18. Mefloquine Dispatches: Royal Commission, 2020

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.

Or April.

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.

17. Mefloquine Dispatches: RQ19/03024 #RightToKnow, 21st November 2019

It was all going so well.

AHQ had found some documents. Some had been destroyed. Just needed to be declassified.

As the requests for extensions came through I accepted them. It has always been my hope that Army might finally wake up to this and take over. Get the message out.

Then the door slammed.

I had been refused several times before this. Even got a single document a few months back. This time the letter is different. More official. Even has a new number. RQ19/03024.

No more information. No reason really.

They have made Operation BARITONE a state secret.

I just watched Chernobyl with my 14-year old son.

When did we become the Soviet Union?

#RightToKnow

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UPDATES

They have destroyed most of the documents. The ones they did find I cannot read because it remains classified. No mention of mefloquine which is strange because I’ve got Red Cross records that confirm it. Which makes me thinks only the Company Group got the Mefloquine but the main battle group would have received a Mefloquine alternative.

I have a simple question then.

In late March 1997 was TAFENQUINE the anti-malarial being considered for the occupation of PNG commencing with a Company Group deployment to secure the Embassy in Port Moresby?

 

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.

16. Mefloquine Dispatches: Caravaggio, October 2012

It is 2012.

I am starting to get noticeably sick but I don’t know what from. Not all the physical symptoms have arrived. My tinnitus was always present but mild. I put the vertigo down to heat, bad ankles or alcohol. My teeth and gums are still good. My face hasn’t gone red as yet. The fine tremor in my hands hasn’t started. I spasm in my sleep but the terror of having been given epilepsy is in my future.

The black dog never goes away. It has been with me for decades. It was accepted by the Army although they blame me for its occurrence. Over the years my family has become inured to its silent damage. My marriage hasn’t collapsed but the writing is on the wall.

I am watching the new Simon Schama series the Power of Art. We get to the episode dedicated to the life and works of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio.

I don’t know the first thing about Caravaggio. Some people are turned away from him. He is unstable yet he has a power to turn art into majesty. He pioneers the art form of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and shadow. He is constantly in trouble. He drinks too much, prefers to sleep in cheap rooms and hang out with his cronies, who are little more than local bully-boys.

His art reeks of the dirt, sweat and blood of everyday life. In Young Sick Bacchus he makes God human. The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew is portrayed as the brutal murder it would have been. The victim lying on the floor on the cusp of shadows, his assailant highlighted with blade in hand ready to finish the killing. It’s all too real for the Catholic Church.

Caravaggio kills a man in 1606 in a duel but it is actually little more than a cold blooded murder. He is exiled and tries to paint his way out of trouble. In a cruel twist of fate he is pardoned but imprisoned on his way home. He gets out of his prison but misses his boat. He dies walking back to Rome with the painting of David with the Head of Goliath. It is a gift for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Prince of the Catholic Church who has pardoned him.

I am captured by this painting. Caravaggio is Goliath. He has painted himself as a villain. The young David is surrounded by light. I finally get art because I see an artist I understand. I totally get Caravaggio. It helps explain what is going wrong in my head.

I too am Goliath. 

As Simon Schama noted in his documentary:

In Caravaggio’s time it was believed that artists were given their talent by God to bring beauty to the world and to put mortal creatures in touch with their higher selves or souls. Caravaggio never did anything the way it was supposed to be done.

In this painting of the victory of virtue over evil it’s supposed to be David who is the centre of attention, but have you ever seen a less jubilant victory? On his sword is inscribed “Humilitus Occideit Superbium”, that is, humility conquers pride. This is the battle that has been fought out inside Caravaggio’s head between the two sides of the painter that are portrayed here.

For me the power of Caravaggio’s art is the power of truth, not least about ourselves. If we are ever to hope for redemption we have to begin with the recognition that in all of us the Goliath competes with the David.”

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Image: David with the Head of Goliath (1601)

 

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.

15. Mefloquine Dispatches: Suicide Prevention, early 1990

It is early 1990. I’m not sure of the exact date but I’m a member of a platoon of freshly minted recruits at 1RTB, the 1st Recruit Training Battalion.

It is starting to get cold because we are shivering through our ‘greens’. A ‘Secco’ or Section Commander calls out the names in the platoon. We yell out our presence. He marks his role.

We have been running PT for a while by this stage. The blokes who have made it this far don’t fall out on a whim or because they aren’t fit enough. We don’t stumble over each other as much as we try to run in step. Our fitness is steadily improving.

We have our webbing on. Today we will be introduced to the old art of bayonet fighting. SLR’s. Self Loading Rifles with pointy knives at the end. We are quietly excited.

We start marching. After a time we start running in step. As we are running along one of the section commanders points over to a set of trees.

“Gentlemen, over there is a tree. In that tree a recruit decided to hang himself. Let me be very clear. You are not to hang yourself. Hanging yourself will create a shit-storm of paperwork. I’ll have to fill out paperwork, Sergeant K* will have to fill out paperwork, the officers will have to fill out paperwork…”

He has run forward of the platoon and then spun around so as to face the running soldiers.

“I fucking hate paperwork”.

We all look at the tree. We look at the Corporal. He is grinning.

“So don’t fucking hang yourself”… he pauses … “Yes, Corporal” he puts it to us like a question that must be answered. It is not a request.

We scream out “Yes, Corporal”.

It is not loud enough. “I CAN’T FUCKING HEAR YOU LOT” the Corporal yells back at us. His face has turned red.

“YES, CORPORAL”. Our scream echoes across the training grounds.

“BETTER”. He turns around and gets back into step near the front of the platoon.

The tree falls behind us.

It is 1990 and we have just been given our first suicide prevention lesson by the Australian Army.

Twenty-four years later I will tie my own noose. But that is in the future.

 

I don’t usually sign petitions. I’m not a big fan of Royal Commissions either. That said I fully support a Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides.

It’s time.

You too can sign here at change.org.

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Image: change.org

 

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.

14. Mefloquine Dispatches: SGADF, 26th September 2019

It took me seven months to prove that I had probably been given Mefloquine back in 1997. Good enough for the SGADF anyways.

Not bad considering when I first requested information from Army Headquarters about my involvement in that Operation I was told I was never on it.

It has come at a real cost.

My health has noticeably deteriorated.

Oh, and I went insane twice. With another two months in the year to go this is a worrisome trend. N* has told me I only really kick-off every twelve to eighteen months. We started dating in 1999. I’m putting it down to the DVA process. Hoping it will get easier in the second year of dealing with them again.

On that note I signed off on my DVA approved rehabilitation plan today. It stipulates Bi-Polar, PTSD and Psoriasis as medical conditions.

I haven’t been diagnosed with Bi-Polar. Nor schizophrenia as yet. Both Repatriation Medical Authority accepted conditions of mefloquine exposure. I certainly haven’t claimed for them.

On the other hand, there is no mention of mefloquine even after the SGADF signed off on it.

One more hill, Digger… One more hill

 

 

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.

13. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs, 2000

I make the call. It is a Friday afternoon. Late but not yet knock off time.

I’m trying to get through to my Delegate. The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs has assigned me a delegate to investigate my claim for Depression. When my mates find out about this they avoid me. I’ve largely disconnected from the military by this time. The Army does not talk about mental health in 2000.

I’ve been trying to get help. The screams that I hear at night as I go to sleep don’t make any sense. I’ve been through my military documents, then my medical documents. Like the Army I miss the deployment and the omission. Six lines and a sign-off hastily written on the back of another soldier as we race on toward the Hercules readying for take-off.

I am paying for my own psychiatrist. He is expensive but wants to do more work. I have to work to keep a roof over my head. I’m selling my house to fund it all. There is no Non-Liability Health Care in 2000. There is no care once you leave the Army even if you can hear the screaming. You have to fight and scrap for every bit of assistance. The process is not just brutal, it’s a fucking meat-grinder. It has been chewing up sailors, soldiers and aircrew since 1976.

A man answers the Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs phone line. It is not my delegate.

“Can I get through to G* please”.

“No mate, everyone has gone home for the day”.

“Ok, I’ll call back next week then”. I am still of the opinion that government departments like this are designed to serve people like me.

“Mate, don’t bother. I know who you are. You have been ringing all the time. Your claim has been dismissed. There is nothing wrong with you. You can try to appeal it but your just bunging it on. We know your type”.

With that he hangs up the phone.

I don’t call back. The door has been shut firmly in may face. It will take me nearly two decades to regain the courage to start the DVA process again.

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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.

12. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Claremont Serial Killings, April 1997

We look down at the near century old corpse. We all laugh. The beret’d Sergeant tells us to shut the fuck up and concentrate. At the bottom of the pit lays the skeleton of the previous occupant. A cheap burial perhaps? The wood has mostly crumbled into dust. It’s been 99-years and they are getting moved on. The coffin lowers into the six-foot hole with a quiet concentration. Later that day we will lower the corpse of my very good mate. It is both a moment of gravitas and levity.

There are seven of us. Six Other Ranks (ORs) and a Sergeant. The Sergeant and four of the ORs are from the Regiment. Two Signal blue from Townsville. Might have been an even number of beret’d and Signal blue? We all know each other or are known to each other. A good set of blokes. It is an official burial with a catafalque party in Perth, WA.

We finish the practice session.

On the return to Campbell Barracks one of the Boys is reading the paper. In the pages are the latest updates on the third murder. A serial killer was stalking the streets of Perth. Three girls. All similar. Young. Good sorts. The first two in 2016 then a big gap until last month. No idea who was murdering them.

One of the Boys tells us that the WA ‘coppers’ have visited the Barracks recently. They haven’t ruled out it might have been a soldier who was knocking off the women. Just a friendly interview at this stage just to rule the Regiment out of it.

Opinions rattle and roll around the bus. It’s good banter and it takes our mind off things.

I rattle off a quick-fire set of statistics. I don’t yet know it but my brain has changed in the last month and I am now recalling information differently than before the MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. At the end I opinion that it was highly unlikely for a Regiment guy to be the killer because most US serial killers historically kill after they leave the services. Not always, but mostly. Think Jeffrey Dahmer. I read a lot of criminal investigation books in those days.

Everyone is impressed with our wisdom until the Sergeant comments out of the side of his mouth.

“Fuck off you idiots”.

We all laugh. Another moment of levity before the tension of the day.

To the Lost.

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Image: The West Australian

 

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.

Random Analytica: Mefloquine – Colonels & Generals

Mefloquine wasn’t just given to Diggers [Australian slang for Other Ranks]. Colonels and Generals got it too. They get sick and they die. They don’t believe the diagnostic overshadowing of PTSD makes any sense either. Some are even voicing their concerns.

Here is a list of Colonels and Generals who either received Mefloquine on Operations OR (more telling) refused to take it. Correct as at 20th October 2019. I’ll update accordingly.

 

Confirmed Mefloquine Exposure and Symptomology

18th October 2019 (Canada): Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire. UNAMIR (Rwanda 1993/94). Via W5. Romeo Dallaire joining lawsuit against government over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:

In a W5 exclusive, Dallaire announced that he is joining a lawsuit against the Canadian government and Defence Department over an anti-malaria drug that he, and other soldiers , were forced to take on missions to Rwanda, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Dallaire, who led the international peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994, has become the highest ranking soldier to join an unprecedented legal action by veterans over the use of the anti-malaria drug Mefloquine. He joins nearly 900 other veterans who claim the Canadian government and Department of National Defence “willfully ignored and concealed the risks” of the drug, which is marketed under the brand name Lariam.

Dallaire has been hailed a hero, both for his attempts to stop the genocide in Rwanda, but also for his outspoken admission that he struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

30th January 2019: Colonel Timothy Dunn (USA). Deployed (Sep – Dec 2006). Via the Military Times. ‘I plead with you to look at this very closely,’ retiree tells panel studying health effects of anti-malarial drugs. Excerpt:

Timothy Dunn, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was among those who told the committee they’d be willing to provide information.

” I open my self, my heart and soul and medical records to you,” Dunn said. “You have to do something to look at this closely and make a fair and just determination … there are many more than I who have had this problem.”

Dunn said he still suffers from insomnia, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears, and dizziness.

22nd May 2016 (UK): General David Julian Richards. Operation Pallisar (2000). Via the Independent. British armed forces set to ban most prescriptions of controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam. Excerpt:

Lady Caroline Richards, the General’s wife, had also taken a keen interest in matter for a long time. She added “Wives and partners of people who had been affected by the use of Lariam approached me and described what had happened. There were some terrible, sad stories of trauma, of relationships ending, psychological problems. We heard about other forces which have stopped using Lariam, so this is obviously something which needed looking into.”

23rd November 2015 (UK): Major-General Alistair Duncan. Sierra Leone (1999). Via the Daily Mail. Has this highly decorated hero been driven mentally ill by an anti-malaria drug tourists are still given? Excerpt:

Today, however, he is locked up in a secure psychiatric unit near his home in Somerset. Tragically diminished, he has been incarcerated for ten months. He has lost the capacity to read and write; outbursts of aggression are punctuated by periods of torpor. He can be sweet-tempered and affectionate; remote and belligerent by turns. His wife, and a growing body of expert medical opinion, believe his psychiatric disorder has been caused, in part, by the controversial anti-malarial drug mefloquine, or Lariam, which he was given for six months in 1999 before being deployed to West Africa.

The Abstainers

31st August 2016 (UK): General Francis Richard Dannatt. Refused Mefloquine. Via The Guardian. Ex-army chief apologises to troops over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:

Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff between 2006 and 2009, told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he would not take the drug because of his son’s experience with it.

Dannatt said his son Bertie had suffered mental health problems after taking two doses of Lariam before visiting Africa in the late 1990s. He was not in the armed forces at the time but had been prescribed the drug by his father’s army doctor.

 

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.