Defence and Veteran Legal Services Newsletter—May 2023

A message from our Director

Welcome to the April edition of the DAVLS newsletter.

We are now just under six months away from the date of final submissions, October 13.

If you’ve been thinking about telling your story to the Royal Commission, but haven’t yet started that process, I invite you to contact us as soon as possible. Our lawyers can make the process easier for you and answer questions about any concerns you may have.

New laws are now in force to protect the privacy of people who make a submission to this inquiry. The laws ensure submissions can remain confidential for 99 years after the inquiry ends – and that should reassure people who have been reluctant to make a submission.

If you have already made a submission marked ‘confidential’ or ‘not for publication’ you do not have to take any further action because those submissions automatically attract the new protections.

If you would like to know more about the new protections, click here to read our factsheet or call us on 1800 33 1800.

The Royal Commission is holding hearings in Perth this month and there will be further hearings in Adelaide in-mid July and in Melbourne in late-August.

Jasmine Stanton

Guilt, shame and humiliation

DAVID GIBSON’S passion for the military survived a witch-hunt centred around his sexuality. But it still took a toll on his mental health.

The journey into darkness and beyond

David Gibson joined the Army after leaving high school, only to be later discharged due to his bisexuality.

As a young man full of pride for his country and a willingness to serve, he could not have anticipated the long-term effect on his mental health of a ‘witch-hunt’ targeting homosexuals at his barracks.

The day it came crashing down

“The day it all came crashing down, I was doing a training route march with my platoon,” David said.

“A Land Rover approached us, and I was told I was needed at Brigade Headquarters. However, I ended at the Military Police building and that’s when the accusations flew.

“Looking back, I realise they had no evidence, it was a witch-hunt where the MPs interrogated me about my sexuality and ultimately coerced me into a confession.

“I asked for a legal officer but that individual told me that if I was homosexual or bisexual, they couldn’t help me.

“At that point I felt that there was no hope, and that really hit me.”

Isolation and trauma

For years, David always thought the interrogation was the one event that impacted on his mental health, but with the help of a psychologist he later realised that the more damaging events happened next.

Immediately transferred to a unit in Melbourne, David found himself isolated; he knew no-one and was ostracised by other personnel.

The humiliation of having to depart Townsville in such a sudden way, without saying farewell to his friends or platoon, took its toll.

David says that, when he arrived in Melbourne, the adjutant said: “I don’t know what you’ve done wrong, but I know you’re trouble.”

While the policy at the time said homosexuals should be treated ‘sympathetically’ and ‘with discretion’, David’s experience was far from this.

Guilt and shame

“That three-month period of isolation left me in an extremely vulnerable mental health state that I would continue to experience for years,” David said.

Although he re-joined the military after the policy (regarding sexuality) changed in 1992, his experience undermined his well-being and his view of himself, inflicting a sense of shame, guilt and internalised homophobia.

“That came back years later with a complete mental breakdown,” he said.

“I ended up having suicidal thoughts and was essentially bedridden for weeks. I was so depressed that taking my own life seemed like an answer to the problem.

“I know now that it isn’t, but when you’re in that dark place and you don’t see solutions, that option presents itself.”

A voice for change

Now married to a male partner, David didn’t think his story wasworth telling to the Royal Commission until he attended the ‘Defending with Pride’ panel discussion in Melbourne recently and heard other LGBTQIA+ soldiers, sailors and airforce members tell their stories.

“I want to add my voice to highlighting a time when things were not right and how that impacted on my mental health for decades,” he said.

“I don’t regret joining the Army. It brought so many positive things to my life.

“What I regret is the way in which I was treated, and like so many other LGBTI people, I was made to feel unworthy of being in the military.”

Role call

JASON DUNN has joined DAVLS in the key role of team leader for our Info Line – 1800 33 1800. He brings with him valuable expertise about mental health issues.

"I hope the Royal Commission delivers practical recommendations to improve mental health support for veterans post-service."

What brought you in to working with veterans? 

In my previous roles I worked closely with people who experienced mental ill health, many of whom had lived experience of suicidal behaviour or were at risk of suicide. Joining DAVLS provided an opportunity to continue to support people to have a voice and hopefully bring about positive change for people who are at risk of poor mental health outcomes.

What do you enjoy about your role?

The DAVLS Info Line is the first point of contact for many people wishing to engage with the Royal Commission and share their story. The Info Line team works to ensure Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans are able access independent information and legal support in a trauma-informed way.

What did you do before working with DAVLS?

Before joining DAVLS, I worked in the public mental health service in Queensland as a patient rights adviser and service manager. My role as a rights adviser included advising people receiving involuntary mental health treatment and care within inpatient facilities. I advised people about their rights and assisted them to express their views and preferences regarding treatment. I also managed a team of patient rights advisers working across the Brisbane metro area for several years.

What would you like the Royal Commission to achieve?

I hope the Royal Commission delivers practical recommendations to improve mental health support for veterans post-service, particularly in the area of ongoing mental health support in the community.

What are your strategies for managing stress and burnout?

To manage stress and burnout I try to exercise regularly and spend time on hobbies and interests outside of work. I enjoy photography, playing guitar and spending time outdoors.

We’re proud to announce the next episode of our podcast series, Stories from the Frontline.

The short audio productions – around five to six minutes each – showcase first-person stories from veterans with a DAVLS connection.

The story will be familiar to regular readers of this newsletter.

Col Watego is a proud First Nations man who spent a career as a Gunner and mentoring First Nations recruits. He is part of our Expert Advisory Group.

Listen to his story here.

Outside the wire - outreach across the nation

DAVLS social worker Sarah Ferguson on outreach in northern NSW.


Social worker Sarah Ferguson and solicitor Verity Mannix travelled to Tweed Heads in late March.

They contacted a number of organisations to reach out to people about the Royal Commission and the services offered by DAVLS.

While there, they met with many people including the Tweed Shire Council Community Care team, the Tweed Heads Cootamundra RSL Sub Branch advocates, as well as staff from the RSL Lifecare Centre, the Murwillumbah Services Club, the Tweed/Coolangatta Golf Club, and the Tweed Shire Library.

"We were heartened by the enthusiasm of local organisations to spread the word about free support for veterans, and we have since presented at the Tweed Shire Council Community Care Forum," Sarah said.


DAVLS lawyer Andrea McGarry attended the Tasmanian Prison Service’s annual Health & Wellbeing Expo held at the Ron Barwick Minimum Security Prison.

It was an afternoon of interactive fun to promote men’s health and wellbeing. Andrea was able to speak to the attendees of the event, prison staff and other stakeholders to promote the work of DAVLS.


April has seen the consolidation of the team’s forays into regional Victoria during March.

During March a significant number of new clients were made aware of our service - through the screening of the movie “Living” - and we have subsequently met with those clients, discussed their plans for a submission, and assisted their requests for a private session with a Royal Commissioner.

Our Victorian team members have recently been interviewed by ABC Bendigo’s breakfast radio show and The Courier newspaper in Ballarat and by The Hamilton Spectator.

We have also continued to extend our contact with other legal services that assist veterans, making presentations within Victoria Legal Aid and to the Latrobe Valley Community Legal Centre.

In addition, our Victorian team members have made contact with a number of homelessness and crisis accommodation services, including those delivered by the Salvation Army .

South Australia

Lawyers Gabrielle Karas and Michael Pagano at a screening of “Living”.

In the towns of Mt Barker and Robe we recently screened the film “Living” starring Bill Nighy.

The movie screenings gave us a chance to chat informally about the issues that veterans want to raise, and about the free and independent assistance we can provide to them.

We know people can often be reluctant to go into a lawyer’s office, so we try to think of ways we can discuss veterans’ issues in a comfortable environment – such as a cinema.

It was great to meet many members of the community and to hear about the issues that veterans are facing. These stories must be heard by the Royal Commission to help bring about change. We would like to thank everyone who made the effort to attend these events.

Legacy SA - new office

We were invited to attend the official opening of the new Legacy office at the Torrens Parade Ground in Adelaide.

It was an honour to meet those who spoke about their personal experiences of losing someone close to them.

The new office is easily accessible for veterans and has convenient parking. We thank Legacy SA for inviting us.

Western Australia

DAVLS lawyer Jim Moss on outreach to mining communities.

Our WA lawyers Jim Moss and Mitch Caubo have been in a state of frenzied activity in the lead-up to the Royal Commission’s next public hearings – starting in Perth this week.

In March, Jim and Mitch attended an International Women’s Day event hosted by the Working Spirit organisation. At this event they spoke to guest speakers Shamsa Lea and Dianne Ryder OAM. 

Shamsa is a former RAAF officer and co-founder of Propel Her, an ADF Women’s Leadership Series; and Dianne is a Noongar woman who served for 21 years in the Army and is currently the president of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association of WA.

In recent times, our WA team members have completed a Kalgoorlie trip and conducted a minister’s meeting.

Last month Jim flew to Kalgoorlie in the Goldfields Region of WA to provide outreach assistance to the veterans community. He visited RSL branches, a prison, and met with various groups that assist veterans including those from a First Nations background.

Mitch and Jim, together with Legal Aid WA manager Gemma Mitchell, recently met with Veterans’ Affairs Minister Matt Keogh in Perth to discuss the services provided by DAVLS in WA and nationally.

Our WA team has delivered services to more than 110 clients since February of last year.

Northern Territory

The solar eclipse as seen from Darwin.

Solicitors Rachael Vincent and Verity Mannix flew to Darwin in the second half of April.

While there, they connected with a number of clients, new and old. (In Darwin, Verity managed to get some photos of the solar eclipse after being reminded by her client.)

They also attended the ADF Transition Seminar where they met a number of Defence members, letting them know about our service and their options for engaging with the Royal Commission.

Rachael and Verity used some of their rare free time to view the Bombing of Darwin exhibition at the Royal Flying Doctor Tourist Facility.


DAVLS is now an official supporter of the QLD Fire and Rescue Men’s & Women’s AFL teams.

On 21 April, in the lead-up to Anzac Day, both teams went head-to-head with their Army counterparts at the Brighton Homes Arena at Springfield.

A significant number of veterans go into the emergency services, particularly the Fire Service. There were many veterans playing in the teams mentioned above. They had a moving memorial service in between the two games; the Ode of Remembrance was recited and the Last Post was played.

The games were viewed by about 200 people. The women’s Fire and Rescue team won its game and the men’s game was a draw.

The Fire and Rescue teams will hold a similar event to commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Remembrance Day. As a supporter, DAVLS will be there.

In April, we presented a webinar for the Legal Aid Queensland community legal education team. The webinar was about DAVLS and was aimed at social workers and community legal, health and education centres.

On Anzac Day, our lawyer Kat Starkey gave the Anzac Day address at the Gaythorne RSL ANZAC Day Commemoration Service. She also laid a wreath on behalf of DAVLS.

Calls continue to the DAVLS helpline

We provide information, referrals and help with submissions and private sessions through our free DAVLS helpline on 1800 33 1800, and call volumes continue to rise.

The Info Line is staffed by a specialist team that is highly experienced in assisting current and former members of the Defence Forces, as well as their family members.

On your initial call to this service, we can:

  • provide introductory information about engaging with the Royal Commission
  • direct you to our free resources
  • arrange to post information to you
  • book you a free appointment with one of our lawyers, anywhere in Australia (these appointments are confidential and there’s no obligation on you to act as result of that appointment).

When you call the Info Line, you can remain anonymous if you wish.

The help provided by the Info Line, and by all our staff, is free, confidential and completely independent of the Royal Commission, DVA and ADF.

If you don’t feel like talking, you can also find online information at

If you call 1800 33 1800 out of hours, please leave a message so that we can call you back.

DAVLS in your community

Our lawyers are working with local ex-service and veteran support organisations across the country, delivering community presentations and attending community events. You can catch up on a recent webinar on our website. If you would like DAVLS to deliver a presentation or attend an event in your community, either in person or virtually, contact Karen Mills at

We can answer your questions about engaging with the Royal Commission, what is involved and how it can benefit you and others in a friendly, relaxed environment. Depending on your event, we can also include opportunities for confidential, one-on-one discussions.

We have been attending all Royal Commission hearings and staffing an information stall at the hearing venues. These have been a valuable point of connection with interested members of the Defence and veteran community and an opportunity for information exchange with members of the Royal Commission team.

We are working closely with support organisations across Australia to spread the word about the specialist services we provide. You know your community and your community’s needs. Through this work, we have identified some groups who may face additional barriers when it comes to engaging with this Royal Commission:

Defence families – We are staffing stalls at family fun days, giving presentations to families through wellbeing centres and events, speaking about the value of families’ experiences and delivering presentations in the community that highlight the important role family members can play in shaping the Royal Commission’s recommendations and legacy.

First Nations people – Through close consultation with First Nations communities, we have developed a range of resources including posters and brochures targeted to First Nations people. We are also contacting key stakeholders, attending indigeneous events.

Veterans in prisons and hospitals – We have developed posters for display in correctional facilities and are working to ensure people in prison can access our services wherever they are in Australia, including by offering outreach services, phone and video contacts.

Serving members - we are visiting bases, talking to stakeholders, attending ADF Family Days and taking submissions from those currently serving.

First Nations resources

The Royal Commission has produced several new resources to support and encourage First Nations people to share their stories. The Royal Commission wants to hear from serving or ex-serving First Nations people about their experience with the Navy, Army or Air Force, including family members. Submissions are open until 13 October 2023.

Resources can be found here.

Future hearings and dates for your diary

The Royal Commission has held public hearings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Townsville, Hobart, Darwin and Wagga Wagga.

Commissioners will travel to New Zealand and the United States in the first half of 2023, to learn about these countries’ military mental health and wellbeing policies and approaches.

Roundtable discussions, stakeholder reference group meetings, and private sessions will continue to be held in 2023 and Commissioners will continue to visit Australian Defence Force bases, review submissions and conduct research.

Key dates to be aware of:

16 May 2023 - public hearings in Perth

17 July 2023 - public hearings in Adelaide

13 October 2023 – submissions close.

17 June 2024 - final Royal Commission report due.


Many of our resources are available for download from our website. We are also happy to send out supplies for you to share.

We have additional promotional materials if you can help us get information out about our free services

To order free resources, including posters, brochures, wallet cards and factsheets, or inquire about promotion, please contact us at