Random Analytica

Charts, Infographics & Analysis without the spin

Tag: ADF

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.

191106_Picture_SuicidePetition

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.

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.

191021_Image_TheWA_ClaremontKillings

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 Use by the Australian Defence Force (1990s)

I’m ready to heal yet I still need to count the cost. Others have made the attempt and fallen short. It might be my most important piece of epidemiology to date. It might pan out to be nothing. At least now I can do it systemically and at a slower pace.

It’s personal for me.

191112_MefloquineUseByADF90s (UPD)

The chart above is still a work in progress. I’m starting to get some good feedback from other veterans… If you want to add to this chart please reach out.

Last updated 12th November 2019

Notes:

191112_MefloquineNotes (UPD)

 

990910_Photo_JMolan_OpSpitfire

10th September 1999. Brigadier Jim Molan & Ian Martin directing the evacuation of Dili, East Timor. Source: Twitter (John L. Gould)

 

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.

9. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Joker, 1997 & 2019

When I find out in March 19’ I send myself over the edge. I have pushed too hard. Way too hard. I’m almost 500-days free of alcohol. I’m using St. John’s Wort to assist with sleep. It also heightens memory recall. I’m going through the horrors. I’m writing in a note book. I ask a simple question. Did the Army turn me into the Batman or The Joker?

I go insane again in late September 19′. This time I’m drinking. I made 537-days before I just gave up. It’s too much. I’ve accepted that I turned into The Joker back in the day. ANZAC Day 97′, I launch at a group of other AJs [Army Jerks]. I have no fear. I’m beating one of them to death in a nightclub because he has been impolite. The guys grab me. Put me in a taxi. The next day I’ll be in hospital. Anaphylaxis is mentioned. Allergies, they ask? I’m calm by the time I hit the hospital. I love medics and nurses.

I bury a friend a month after my MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. I tell the Land Commander the radios are killing us. I farewell my Dad on a bed covered in blood. My face turns red in 2014. Psoriasis. It’s an accepted condition of Mefloquine. My Dad doesn’t die and I don’t talk to him for 20-years. I’m lucky. I speak to him on the phone in 2017. He dies the next year. We never say our goodbyes face-to-face. Another regret. He leaves me $10,000. I use it to get sober. I start getting my memories back. My head is a horror show.

Anyway, this will be my last horror story. I now live quietly in a small cabin with no hot running water and an outside dunny. I isolate when I feel The Joker coming on. I love the peace and the silence. Being disconnected is part of the disease.

As I watch The Joker I see the similarities. I have written similar notes. I’m adopted. I wash my Mums hair. I have a different laugh. A different dance. The same crazed run from the cops. I’ve been running for 22.5-years.

I write. It will help some, hurt others. There’s a bit of Batman in there. It doesn’t matter. Do I look like a guy with a plan?

I have grief. I have pain. I have no regrets.

191021_Image_Joker

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

 

If you or anyone you know of a veteran who needs help I would strongly suggest you reach out to Open Arms 1800 011 046.

3. Mefloquine Dispatches: Raven, 1990s

It really kicked off in early 2019. The vivid memories have been replaced by flashbacks. It’s hard to describe. I try to explain it to 11M. It comes and goes in waves. He is both interested and worried. As far as they know I never went to war. I’m almost certain they are right but I’m trawling through the evidence now. There isn’t much. I never kept many photos. I certainly didn’t share them with the kids. Now, all of my memories are questioned. It was so long ago.

My 14M gets involved. We get side-tracked. We are discussing Bruce Lee for some reason. My mind flips to another memory. I remember his son dying on the set of Raven.

“Raven”, I say excitedly. We used Raven radios after we got rid of the PRC-77s. The terminology is coming back because my advocate wants me to apply for my back and hips.

The three of us jump on the computer. 14M loves electronics and Army radio’s make for an interesting breakfast topic.

I type in ‘raven radio Australian Army’. There are four lines of pictures shown. I’m explaining to 14M about how the Army was finally starting to go digital in the early 90s when my 8M comes up to give me a hug.

“Look at this guy Dad”. He points at a young soldier talking on a radio. It’s on the second line of photos.

I look. “It’s ME!” A ghost from 1992 I think. I haven’t seen this photo for almost 30-years. I get an image of CPL S* straight away. It’s the hill behind the Squadron. He isn’t in this picture but he will be close-by. The last time I really talked to him was at Campbell Barracks in 1997. He touched base via social media a few years previously. We talked about dead friends. I closed that social media account not long after. Too many ghosts reaching out.

“The chopper is on the next hill, Digger…”

Grange

Image: Google

 

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.

My Request to Darren Chester

Dear Minister,

A few things.

I’m politely requesting access to the comprehensive health-assessment you said would be up and running by 1 July 2019.

I’m formally asking that your Department reach out to the Company Group that was assigned to Operation BARITONE redeploying from Tandem Thrust 97 then on to Garbutt on the 22nd March 1997. We were stood down a few days later. On the 30th May 2019 I provided compelling evidence that we received mefloquine via my Red Cross records.

Also… We weren’t the only Operation deploying to a malarial zone on short notice or by plane, let alone Butterworth! Are you reaching out to veterans? I’d suggest you might want to reach out to the advance party for Operation SOLACE as a starting point. Don’t worry about contacting my Troop Sergeant though. The last time I saw him was maybe a decade ago. He was screaming at me like some emaciated ghost in a train as we were arriving Roma Street. ‘GIVE ME YOUR F****** HEART GRANGE, YOU HAD A PRETTY GOOD HEART YOU C***’ while I held my son against a wall for safety.

I didn’t help him. I simply fled with my son. For years I thought it was another nightmare.

One of the Boys told me last week he is now dead.

I leave it to your conscience.

 

My request via Twitter dated 9th September 2019.

Note: The past six months have been a roller-coaster since I found out that I was given a mefloquine loading dose preparing for an insertion into Port Moresby on the 22nd March 1997. After providing countless people and organisations the information needed to get the rest of the Boys the help they deserve I have struck out alone.

190909_Tweet_Requests

Background documents provided via Twitter 10th September 2019.

Note: My SRCA determination circa 2000. The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) process back in the 1990s was absolutely brutal. Recent improvements to service delivery such as the access to a White Card for any veteran and the Opens Arms network are fantastic and life-saving initiatives.

 

First set of background documents provided via Twitter 11th September 2019.

Note: If the SRCA process was bad the appeal process put in by the Army in the late 1990s and early 2000s was downright draconian. Days after I kick-off in late 1998 I collapse into a complete blubbering wreck, completely alone and a danger to myself. I’m desperately asking for help. They send me a priest to talk me down and hand myself in. Never once was I offered counselling or given a mental health assessment. It’s 1998 and the ADF isn’t worried about its operational tempo. It certainly doesn’t talk about mental health; it’s just a disciplinary matter.

It is a peace time Army.

 

Second set of background documents provided via Twitter 11th September 2019.

Note: Only today (11th Sep 2019) while working on this update did I have a distinct memory of verbally giving the medic my Date of Birth on Discharge for my full body rash. They had only just introduced a new computerised system into the Lavarack Base Medical Centre (LBMC). Before that you used to have to add your own pages and write your details down but for blokes like me who were always in a bit of a rush you pre-filled a couple while you were hanging around the Regimental Aid Post (RAP).

 

Background documents provided via Twitter 13th September 2019.

1. Mefloquine Dispatches: The First Asylum, 1997

I wake up. I’ve managed to snatch a few minutes or hours of blessed sleep. I haven’t slept in a couple of days. I’ve got a whole body rash. In and out of baths. Can’t stop scratching. If that’s not bad enough I can’t sleep. Don’t know why. I blame the itching but I’m pretty wired. My hands are covered in fine scratches. Don’t know what happened there?

I’m bored. I look around for some alcohol swabs. There’s none near my bed but the little box is in its place, it’s just empty. I find another bed, same story. I don’t want to pinch the other bloke in the wards stuff but I’m desperate. I peek over. His are gone too. Curious I go out for a walk to find the duty medic. I know her. We lived together in the same Barracks when I was posted to the BASC unit the previous year.

“Hey T*, you got any alcohol swabs?”

“Sure” she says. She comes over and checks my hands. “Ouch, I saw these when you came in”. She smiles. “Must have been a bit of a scrap”.

I just smile. It’s all a bit fuzzy.

“Anyway, I shouldn’t tell you… but you know that that bloke in the ward with you?”

“Yeah” I reply. I’m interested now. I’ve always loved gossip.

I lay my hands flat on the counter while T* gently cleans the fine wounds. It stings a little.

“Ok, the reason why you don’t have any alcohol swabs is that bloke has been chewing them all. We had to take all the alcohol swabs out of the ward. Must have a big drinking problem”.

I shrug “Makes sense, I suppose”.

Not really but I see lots of silly shit in the Army.

– Recent memory recall. I believe this is me talking to Private T* on either 27th or 28th April 1997.

—– —– —– —– —– —– —– —–

My 9-year old son recently asked me whether I was stupid to have joined the Army. I told him honestly that I loved the Army and I would still have run towards those planes. I say this even after everything that has happened since.

It’s not all negative. I’m not just interested in Mefloquine. You cannot mention mefloquine in Australia without talking about Tafenoquine. It might be just my binary nature but I’m also now also interested in all things that might end malaria. Always end on a positive.

If you or anyone you know of a veteran who needs help I would strongly suggest you reach out to Open Arms 1800 011 046.

They have been a lifesaver this time around.

Mefloquine and Tafenoquine use by the Australian Defence Force 1990 – 2017

Mefloquine and Tafenoquine are two different types of anti-malarial drugs that have been in use potentially as far back as 1990 but trialled extensively by the Australian Defence Force at the turn of the century. From 2016 via the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Defence force admits soldier shouldn’t have been included in East Timor anti-malaria drug trial. Excerpt:

The Australian Defence Force has acknowledged it accidentally exposed one of its soldiers to controversial anti-malarial drugs during trials in East Timor, despite the soldier having a medical history of mental illness which should have precluded his involvement.

The soldier, Chris Salter, developed chronic depression and psychosis after inclusion in the Timor trials of psychoactive drugs mefloquine and tafenoquine.His illness has led to repeated suicide attempts and more than a dozen stays in psychiatric hospitals. He is unable to work or care for his family.

Since the trials, which included thousands of Australian soldiers between 2001 and 2003, a small group of veterans have developed severe mental illnesses. They believe the ADF erred by giving them the drugs even though there was a significant body of research which pointed to the drugs’ side effects, which in some cases are permanent.

I just wanted to get a chart posted which highlighted the use of Mefloquine and Tafenoquine in Australian soldiers over the past 30-years. Currently most of the documentation concentrates on the trials conducted between 1998 – 2002, however there is some evidence that groups of soldiers were subjected to trials of mefloquine as far back as 1992 during Operation SOLACE (Somalia). I’ll update the chart as new information comes to hand.

Mefloquine~TafenoquineUsebyADF1990-2017

Explanatory Notes:

1992-93: Somalia – Awaiting more information
1993: Cambodia – Awaiting more information
1994-96: Rwanda – One confirmed mefloquine dosage. Awaiting more info
1997: PNG – One confirmed mefloquine dosage. Awaiting more info
1998: Bougainville – Peace Monitoring Group – 201 troops given Tafenoquine (note: Stuart McCarthy’s notes state 374 troops were given Tafenoquine).
2000: East Timor – 639 troops given Tafenoquine during trials.
2000: East Timor – 162 troops given Mefloquine during the Double-Blind trial
2000: East Timor – 492 troops given Tafenoquine during the Double-Blind trial
2001: Australia – 31 troops given Tafenoquine to test for Relapse Prevention
2001: East Timor – 1,157 troops given Mefloquine during the last major trial of the drug

An excellent resource for understanding the trial intensity of both anti-malarial drugs is Stuart McCarthy’s Summary of ADF Mefloquine and Tafenoquine Clinical Trials 1998 – 2002. See attached:

150724_Summary_SMcCarthy_ClinicalTrials

Data Sources

  1. Mefloquine http://www.defence.gov.au/Health/HealthPortal/Malaria/Anti-malarial_medications/Mefloquine/default.asp
  2. Randomized, double-blind study of the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of tafenoquine versus mefloquine for malaria prophylaxis in nonimmune subjects https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19995933
  3. Summary of ADF Mefloquine and Tafenoquine Clinical Trials 1998 – 2002 https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Foreign_Affairs_Defence_and_Trade/Mefloquine/Submissions
  4. TGA Approvals for Australian Defence Force Use of Mefloquine in Townsville (Queensland) and Somalia, 1992-93 https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/tga_approvals_for_australian_def