I’m very sick. Before being admitted to hospital I use the last of my dollars in the bank to pay a month of rent in advance. I ring my NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme) provider who immediately cancels my payments. When I leave hospital, I must reapply for Newstart. At approximately $700 per fortnight, it only just covers rent and food.
I am in a bad way mentally, physically, and financially.
I understand I can access up to $10,000 via my super due to financial hardship. I’ve assisted a few people in this regard in the past. I put in the application with the following cover letter:
I get the answer back via a phone call and follow-up email two weeks later. The answer is No.
I’ve been sober for more than 550-days to this point but this tips me over. I’m also reacting badly to the anti-psychotics I’ve been prescribed. I’ve just been released from hospital and now staring down the barrel of homelessness (again). I don’t care anymore. I buy a flagon and get to work.
Ironically, I’ve been doing a financial planning internship for two years. I’m doing the reading on compassionate grounds, but the bar is set very high. Too high for me in fact. The suggestion of going to the Department of Human Services and asking for mercy is laughable. I re-read the email from MLC as the wine kicks in and I have a thought. Don’t I get some money from the DVA?
I send the DVA a request for more information. They respond the very next day.
It is $6.20 per fortnight but meets the criteria for a pension payment. I’ve been on it for eight months. I forward the pension verification to MLC.
My application for accessing my superannuation is approved the next day.
Turned out I copped the Mefloquine Loading Dose in 1997. Plus, the cocktail they serve up afterwards. It was never noted in my medical or personal records. I didn’t remember it until I had flashbacks to another incident. It all got lost to history until the flashbacks hospitalised me.
I got very ill in late 2018 and continued to worsen until I was hospitalised in March 2019. I left the mental health unit in early April with a will to get better. I tried to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs for months after that and my advocates and I were initially optimistic about the DVA’s response to the Senate Enquiry. As my advocate and I filled out the claims for mefloquine which I had done almost two-decades previously we were heartened by Darren Chester’s announcement of the Anti-Malarial Initiative.
You can read the Ministers statement here. He announced this on the 15th March 2019.
When my advocate and I rang up a few months later in mid-2019 we were told that the entire Mefloquine programme was being shut down!
Here is the official response for the anti-malarial health check dated 2nd October 2019.
We fought very hard to get mefloquine back on the agenda. The various Ministers and the DVA have fought against us at every step.
The Anti-Malarial Medications Health Assessment Program finally got up in late 2021 run by BUPA. Outsourced to an insurance company.
Why is that important today?
Because the DVA is promoting a program that outsources complex health situations for veterans in extremely hazardous situations to an insurance group. This has led to deaths amongst veterans.
I didn’t participate in the early hearing blocks of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. I understood that listening to the stories of other witnesses would be traumatic. I understand I can get triggered. I was being very careful.
Over the past fortnight, I have been following the proceedings with much interest. It’s my old outfit. 3 Brigade (I didn’t connect with the 3rd Combat Brigade rename). After 25-years absence I thought that with time and distance it would be enough to insulate me from further triggers.
I was very wrong.
This would be a wonderful segue into my specific topic of interest. Mefloquine. Just a note. Tafenoquine is a relevant subject too and I thought it would have been discussed in Townsville.
Wrong, on both accounts.
Yet, something else came up watching the Royal Commission. If you were watching it as a veteran or currently serving member it should send chills down your spine. According to the witness testimony this week they apparently interviewed more than a 100 people in Townsville during the fortnight of hearings. Via Transcript Day 5 − Townsville, 24 June 2022. Excerpt:
CHAIR: Good morning, Mr Gray, Mr Free. We want to place a number of matters on the record today before we hear from you hopefully. By way of background, and happy to place this on the record. Counsel and Solicitors Assisting us have requested this brief procedural hearing this morning.
The background is as follows: before our hearing program began, we were concerned to do everything we could to encourage serving and former members of the Defence Force to come forward with any information they considered relevant to our Terms of Reference, and to ensure that there would be appropriate arrangements in place for sensitive information so that they would face no risk of legal liability for sharing information with us. This is a very important issue for the Royal Commission, as you can appreciate, and we want to ensure every protection is given to those who come forward with information. In October last year we asked Solicitors Assisting to send the Commonwealth a proposed written arrangement to achieve this. We were not proposing to elicit any protected information or even sensitive operational information; we simply wanted an unambiguous green light given to serving and former serving members to provide appropriate and textual information for us relating to their accounts about the circumstances of service that led to their experiences of suicidality or witnessing suicidality or witnessing risk factors in service without fear that by doing so, they could in any way get into trouble for revealing Defence‑related information.
As the Townsville leg came to an end Commissioner Kaldas, to his credit tried to reassure Veterans that any evidence you give to the Royal Commission won’t be prosecuted. He brought up the powers of the Royal Commission legislation to protect witnesses and the fact that General Angus Campbell made a public commitment to not prosecute anyone for giving evidence.
The Commonwealth have yet to offer such comfort to Veterans. In fact, their reticence comes in the same week as it was confirmed the Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus would allow the Commonwealth to pursue ATO whistle-blower Richard Boyle.
Just to be clear.
If you have no protected legal rights, you effectively have no rights. Other Veterans have tried to disclose sensitive information including war-crimes and have been subjected to severe legal ramifications. This includes David McBride. I can’t believe I’m backing an Officer, but we live in strange times.
As much as I appreciated the strong words by Commissioner Kaldas, the decision to pursue witnesses legally won’t be a decision for the Royal Commission or of the Australian Defence Force. It will be a Commonwealth matter.
As for the ADF, officers and the assurances of the General Campbell. I don’t believe him. So far, the fallout from the Brereton report into extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan elicited the following actions from the ADF in regards to Operation Slipper.
They forgave the officers and gave then legal immunity.
They dismissed or charged the Diggers. Some of these guys have since taken their own life.
They discussed disbanding units. Still pending.
They were about to remove the combat medals of Veterans. Still pending.
Every time I saw her presenting on the Footy Show it would trigger me. I would blow up. “Turn that shit off, I cannot stand her”, I would scream. I don’t watch Rugby League at home so I would only be triggered at my friend’s place. In the end it became a running joke.
“Turn the TV off, Erin is on”. The boys would laugh.
For the record I have never met Erin. Wish her all the best.
Amnesia is funny.
I came across this letter during my research into my history as crippling bad flashbacks kicked off. Again, not Erin’s fault for my history. Turns out her Dad kicked off those memories. Jim sent this to me as I was coming apart, not for the first time as other records would confirm. I first reported my mental health problems a month after exposure to mefloquine, went psychotic, got misdiagnosed and got released. After many flips, I finally flipped out for real in October 1998. The Australian Army dumped me and wiped their hands.
This was the official response from Jim on my DFM (the modern and poorer version of a court-martial for Diggers. Officers still get a court-martial). For the record. I was still sick.
Luckily, I kept the letters from his angry Legal Officer at the time. Defence Archives did not.
A few months before Operation Baritone, another operation led by the online parachute company from 3 RAR started to pre-deploy for Vanuatu (October 1996). The U.S Department of State noted in its Human Rights report on the 30th January 1997 that:
“The civilian authorities normally control the small police and paramilitary Vanuatu Mobile Force, however, a brief mutiny in October by elements of the VMF over pay issues shook the principle of civilian control. The mutiny was resolved without bloodshed.”
Although the mission got scrubbed, here is a text from a Digger who was exposed to a Mefloquine Loading dose while pre-deploying (shared with permission). It should be noted they have no confidence in the DVA and the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicides. Excerpt:
Hi Shane. It’s * here. Love to catch up cause (sic) I got no idea what’s happening and am generally confused. I was contacted out of the blue by someone at dva (sic). This was 3 years ago. They said it was some mefloquine program and wanted to speak to me about my exposure to mefloquine. Told him I had no idea what he was talking about. But yes had taken malaria medication in 3 RAR and * in late 90’s. He told me he would email me. Following day a secure encrypted email show up. I ring him, he laughs, says oops and that he will resend it and just to delete it. Of course I don’t. But nothing shows up. I ring dva (sic). They keep fobbing me off saying someone from the mefloquine team will call me back. Never happened. I got shits and stopped calling. 6 months later I ring up to be told it’s an inquiry at the senate and I will need to lodge a claim. Advocates can’t tell me nothing till a month ago when advocate tells me to put in claim for mefloquine acquired anxiety disorder. I mention it to *, they say they saw some 60 mins show about it and was going to ring and ask me if I’d been on it cause of some of the shit I through in * then after discharge in *. So that’s me. I don’t really know more than that
On the 25th Anniversary of the Sandline Affair I thought it might be worthwhile to publish a couple of items I came across during my mefloquine research. The first is an article originally published on the 21st March 1997 by the Sydney Morning Herald. From the Archives: Gunpoint in PNG; mercenaries evacuated. Excerpt:
The Federal Government placed a crack Army battalion on heightened alert in a contingency plan to evacuate 12,000 Australian citizens from Papua New Guinea as rebel troops bundled the remaining mercenaries out of the country.
Late last night, 55 mercenaries were put on a chartered Air Niugini jet to Hong Kong.
The confrontation between PNG’s rebellious defence force and the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, over his aborted plan to use the mercenaries in the Bougainville conflict moved towards a showdown yesterday.
The sacked military commander, Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok, who still holds the loyalty of most of PNG’s 4,700 troops, rejected the compromise plan by Sir Julius to hold an inquiry into the mercenaries plan, claiming it would be rigged.
Australian troops have been on alert for the past two days and are ready to move if the crisis worsens. Troops at the First Royal Australian Regiment in Townsville have packed stores, and Hercules transport aircraft at the RAAF base at Richmond have been readied.
It is understood the main purpose of the alert is to have troops ready to assist Australians in PNG if law and order collapses. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warned Australians to stay away from PNG’s capital if possible.
The second link is a 20-minute documentary via the ABC and journeyman.tv shot in March 1997 from the ground in PNG with some extraordinary footage. To view: The 10 Days That Shook Papua New Guinea.
This report offers a dramatic overview of the events which triggered Papua New Guinea’s 1997 constitutional crisis. Jerry Singirok, the commander of Papua New Guinea’s Defence Force, was sacked for calling the government out for corruption and for spending over $40m on mercerises for the war in Bougainville. Troops loyal to Singirok revolted and seized control of the main military barracks in the country, creating a huge rift between the government and the army. Meanwhile, protests erupted in the country’s capital Port Moresby, with civilians demanding Prime Minister Julius Chan’s resignation. After MPs voted to keep Chan as Prime Minister, the army joined the protesters in storming the parliament building. Eventually Chan back down and resigned. Filming the chaos first hand, and following a pilot in the military, ABC Australia captures the turmoil that changed the fate of Papua New Guinea, and asks whether Singirok and the army’s actions defended or damaged democracy in the country.