A message from our Director
Welcome to our final newsletter of the year. As we head into the holidays, we can reflect on what we’ve achieved over the past year.
First and foremost, the Royal Commission has held seven public hearing blocks this year. Wherever the Royal Commission sits, we make sure that we are there as well, to support people who want to tell their story. Beyond the public hearings, we have helped so many more people to share their experiences through submissions and private sessions.
This important work will kick off again in the new year and there are two important dates to have in mind: April 28, 2023 is the closing date for requesting a Private Session. These sessions will then continue to run through 2023. October 13, 2023 is the closing date for submissions.
Thank you so much for supporting DAVLS this year. It is so heartening to be part of a broader community that is passionate about helping veterans, Defence members and their families to tell their own stories in their own words. This is how we are going to make positive change for those who come after us.
It is also a time to think about those who might be going through a tough time. If you’re one of those people, you’re not alone. Lots of people can find this time of year stressful and it can raise tricky situations. We all cope in different ways, but there is no need to do it alone. Support services can be found at the end of this newsletter.
Death in secret - acknowledged at last
Bruce Lee Jurd served in New Guinea in World War Two. He died by suicide in 1955 when she was just six. His daughter, LOUIS TIMMS has told her story to Royal Commission with the help of DAVLS. It is important to keep fighting the stigma associated with suicide,” she says.
"It's important to keep fighting the stigma associated with suicide."
Like others at the time, my father lied about his age to join the Army. He served in New Guinea on the front line. He was outside of Australia for over 500 days.
While in New Guinea, he became very sick with bush typhus and malaria. In the hospital, he was cared for by a nurse named Louis Anne.
She was a larger woman and would carry him outside so he could get sun and then bring him back in. She thought the sun had healing properties.
She would also get this liquid from the bush and put it in his mouth whenever he was near unconsciousness.
When she came back from a break one day, she was told that my father had died. She said no, he was getting better.
She was told he had been taken to the mortuary. Louis Anne went to the mortuary and found him alive under a sheet. He was so unwell that she had to hold her ear to his chest to hear him breathe.
She wrote to my mum and let her know what had happened.
What happened next
I was born in Wyong. I lived on a farm with my dad, mum, younger brother, and grandparents. Everything was fine growing up. I remember my parents cooking, making scones, they both had the cooking gene. I remember warm hugs from dad.
The morning after
My parents had been at a ball the night before. Dad had had too much to drink that night, my mum didn't drink. That morning, mum said she thought they needed to talk about his drinking. Dad went off to the milk shed.
I wasn't allowed to go to the funeral. It was mum's way of protecting us. Mum always tried to protect me, right through till she died. I was told that it was an accident. On his death certificate it was left open ended, like it could have been an accident, it was undetermined.
Not an accident
I only discovered that his death was not an accident many years later, when I was aged 28.
It is important to keep fighting the stigma associated with suicide. No one of my era ever spoke of suicide. It was just shut up, don't say anything. It has improved but I think there is still a stigma.
SARAH FERGUSON is a highly experienced social worker who has recently joined our team to assist clients with the non-legal challenges they face.
What brought you in to working with veterans? What do you like about military and ex military people?
I have a strong sense of social justice and am motivated by improving the outcomes for people with complex health and social needs. The veterans community has faced unique experiences during their military career which can pose significant challenges.
I like working with this population as I feel it gives me an opportunity to give back - they have demonstrated a commitment and dedication to serving our country. I'm interested in helping to improve the lives of veterans and their families.
What do you enjoy about your role?
This is only my second week in the role and so far I’ve found the DAVLS team to becreally supportive and welcoming. There have been many opportunities to further my learning particularly regarding trauma-informed care. I don’t have a military background and have enjoyed learning about the military experience. I’m also enjoying working amongst lawyers as I feel our interest in social justice is well aligned.
Tell us about your new role
My role as social worker is to support the needs of clients in a client-centred, trauma-informed way. I work collaboratively with the broader DAVLS team to address clients’ legal and non-legal needs. Clients of our service may need assistance in a range of areas, including finances, housing, grief and loss, drug and alcohol misuse, relationship/family problems and difficulties accessing support. As social worker, I provide short to medium term support to clients to meet complex needs. I develop therapeutic relationships with clients and assists them with referrals to community managed services. I also provide information and advice to DAVLS solicitors as required around working with particular clients, appropriate referrals and strategies to engage with clients in a trauma-informed way.
What would you like the Royal Commission to achieve?
I’d like the Royal Commission to achieve real change for the defence and veteran community and restore faith amongst the community that their voices have been heard.
The very process of providing a submission of their lived experience can be therapeutic for many. More practical outcomes I’d like to see include improved wait times for claims through DVA.
More intense, longer term support for those transitioning back to civilian life, particularly for those discharged due to illness or injury, which carries a higher risk.
What are your strategies for managing stress and burnout?
Self care is of utmost importance in my role given the challenges of this work. I try to get away from the computer regularly, maybe go for a walk and get some fresh air. I ride my bike to the office and find this sets me up well for the day. I also regularly engage with formal and informal social work supervision to guide my practice and provide additional support.
Outside the wire - outreach across the nation
Our lawyers Gerry Stapleton, Verity Mannix, and Isabelle Whyte were in Wagga Wagga at the Mercure Hotel this week for Hearing Block 8 of the Royal Commission.
The Riverina has a long association with the Defence Force and it was great to see people come out for the hearings. Wagga Wagga is the only regional city in Australia that has a Defence presence of all three services, Army, Air Force and Navy.
Our lawyers were stationed outside of the hearing, speaking to both people attending the hearings as well those who came down for a chat. While there, they also spread the word about DAVLS over the radio. Gerry went into the ABC Riverina studio and sat down with Sally Bryant for an interview on breakfast radio. Verity was also interviewed by Triple M Riverina.
The theme of the hearing block was the health and wellbeing of Defence members and recruits. It was wonderful to see the support and sense of community outside of the hearings this week.
Earlier in the month we provided a presentation online to South East Queensland Open Arms team about our service.
Our lawyers then attended the DAVLS conference in Sydney and had a fantastic time meeting all of our national colleagues.
Lani Olafsson was invited to attend an ‘Operation PTSD’ retreat in Coolangatta to give a presentation about our service and speak directly with women in attendance to assist them with their submissions. This group focuses on support for carers and families of veterans.
Before her arrival, she had been advised there was interest from about four women to engage with our service or the Royal Commission, but by the end of my presentation almost every person came up to have a chat or take some cards and brochures.
It was a very successful event and wonderful to have such positive feedback at the conclusion of the day.
In South Australia, we have been busy conducting webinars.
Our most recent session was attended by authorised mental health professionals. This was a great opportunity to talk about the service DAVLS provides and discuss how we can work alongside employees in the mental health field.
We are continuing our work with veterans in prisons, and it has been a great success setting up a priority call number for prisoners to contact DAVLS in South Australian prisons. We have received positive feedback from the prisoners and staff about this access pathway.
We were also kindly invited to address the Lion’s Club of Adelaide as guest speakers. The attendees were very receptive, and we thank the Club for the opportunity.
DAVLS was invited along to a forum on veteran mental health was hosted by the Perth Suicide Prevention Coordinators at Neami National.
In additional to DAVLS, other attendees included representatives from Open Arms, Soldiers & Sirens, AVAC Services, and Buddy Up Australia as well as members of the Perth Suicide Prevention Network reference group.
Despite a packed agenda preventing DAVLS from delivering a presentation, it did get a couple of shout outs during the forum (thankfully, all positive) and was able to take advantage of the opportunity to display the DAVLS banner.
The forum was a great way to network with stakeholders and see the other supports available to veterans around WA.
It was also an honour to listen to those ESO representatives speak about their own experience of suicide or poor mental health as ex-serving ADF members and their drive to help the veteran community.
Neami National’s focus on suicide prevention and mental health for the public means forums like these are an important avenue through which DAVLS’ message can reach outside the veteran community to general mental health providers and support services around Western Australia.
No chocos in Perth
In early November, our WA solicitor recently received a surprise delivery of two Lindt Maitre Chocolatier boxes, source (initially) unknown.
Drawing great interest from other members of the Legal Aid WA fraternity, Mitchell Caubo Esq. wasted no time in tearing into the box marked “DARK CHOCOLATE” (a particular vice for the young lawyer) with characteristic verve and vigour.
To his great disappointment, and to the dismay of spectators, the contents of said box differed markedly from the product advertised.
Rather than the 10kg assortment of rich and luxuriously smooth dark chocolate, in which one may immerse their senses in a symphony of flavour, the box instead contained no less than fifty ring-bound A5 notebooks emblazoned with the tri-colour emblem of the Defence and Veterans Legal Service.
Upon investigation, it was revealed that the remaining box (marked “MILK CHOCOLATE”) had also been employed as part of the deception. It is unclear whether this was the result of a deliberate subterfuge, or a consequence of creative budgetary management by National Legal Aid.
The only solace for our WA solicitor is that, unlike Swiss chocolate, these notebooks are likely to hold up far better in the brutal heat and humidity of the Kimberley region when he takes up the outreach trail again in the new year.
Clare Mittermayer and Donetta Ditton have been reaching out to veterans at the RSL Wellbeing Expos and the Women Veterans Forums.
The Wellbeing Expos were held at Exeter, Swansea and Queenstown and were well attended by veterans and their families. Clare demonstrated DAVLS commitment to working with stakeholders and the importance of veteran wellbeing by joining forces with Claire Geluk, the RSL Wellbeing Advocate, in a cooking competition at the Swansea Expo.
She says her corn fritters were “interesting”, and stresses that “it's about the connections, not about winning!”
There have been Women Veterans Forums held in Launceston and Hobart where we represented DAVLS. These have given women veterans a chance to have their say on issues that matter to them.
The final forum will be held in Ulverstone on 6 December.
Clare will also be taking up a position outside DAVLS in the New Year that will give her the hours she needs for the practical part of her psychology degree.
We wish you all the best Clare!
Victoria has welcomed two new lawyers to the team!
We are lucky to have John McDougall, an experienced Legal Help lawyer with a well-earned reputation for great client communication.
John has always impressed his colleagues with his empathy, and for always staying super-cool under pressure. John loves a challenge and I know he will enjoy the interesting and varied work. John will be in the role three days a week.
We also welcome Steven Baras-Miller, who comes to us from the private sector and is joining DAVLS on a full-time basis.
Before attaining legal qualifications, Steven had a long career with the ABC, and his media and communication skills will be of high value in this role. Steven’s interest in supporting veterans is also borne from his own experiences in a family of serving members.
"On a personal note, I am sorry to be moving on from my role here at DAVLS. We are, after many years, returning to my hometown of Brisbane to be closer to family.
"It has been a fun and interesting journey with DAVLS, and I have met some lovely people on the way. I have been able to get to know some of our wonderful stakeholders and I have been constantly impressed by their commitment to improving the lives of veterans and family members of veterans.
"I am also so grateful to the courageous DAVLS clients from whom I have learnt so much. I know I will miss being part of the wonderful DAVLS team and being part of this unique service."
Our ACT jurisdictional solicitor, Isabelle Whyte, has had a busy month. This has included Private Sessions with the Royal Commissioners and heading to Wagga Wagga for the Public Hearings.
Isabelle assisted a DAVLS client with their Private Session with Commissioner Douglas. It was a great opportunity for Isabelle to experience a Private Session, as well as support her client and provide advice. It was great to be able to help a DAVLS client share their story and feel heard.
Isabelle is currently in Wagga Wagga NSW for the Public Hearings.
It has been a great opportunity to see the Hearings in person and listen to personal experiences and stories of ADF members.
Isabelle is also in Wagga to see some of her local clients and assist while in the area. DAVLS has established a good connection with the local Wagga community and will be at the Hearings for the remainder of the week. Isabelle is grateful to be able to participate at the Hearings, as well as see the historic town and ADF presence within it.
Back home in Canberra, Isabelle is continuing to assist clients, particularly in relation to preparing submissions and requesting private sessions.
1000 calls and counting – DAVLS helpline marks milestone
We provided information, referrals and help with submissions and private sessions through our free DAVLS helpline on 1800 33 1800, and call volumes continue to rise.
Our free Information Line recently handled its 1000th call recently and that provides a great opportunity to highlight the personalised support it provides.
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 about our services by visiting us at www.defenceveteranslegalservice.org.au.
If you call 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 DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
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.
- Veterans in prison – 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 a separate phone line for prisoner contact to ensure calls are answered as soon as possible and to allow a quality service to be delivered in the limited time prisoners have for phone calls. Follow-up services will be delivered via audio-visual connections.
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 by clicking 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.
The Royal Commission will be in Perth in the first half of 2023 and Melbourne and Adelaide in the second half of 2023. Exact dates will be published on the Royal Commission website when confirmed.
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:
- 28 April 2023 – deadline to register for a private session (sessions run until December 2023).
- 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 DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
For immediate help in a crisis, please contact one of the following services: