A message from our Director
At DAVLS, we have a busy year ahead - and our efforts are focused solely on helping clients during a critical phase of this national inquiry.
We are always conscious that the Royal Commission is a once in a lifetime opportunity for government to hear what needs to change from those who know best - ADF members, veterans and their families.
Real change happens when people are empowered to speak up and that’s why DAVLS is here; we help ADF members, veterans and their families to tell their stories to the Royal Commission.
There are some important deadlines approaching that we suggest you keep in mind.
Firstly, requests for a private session with a Commissioner must be received by 28 April 2023 - and that’s just three months away. These sessions allow you to speak about your personal experience of suicide or poor mental health in a one-on-one meeting with a Royal Commissioner.
They can be conducted in-person, via phone, or by video conference.
A second deadline is also fast approaching. Submissions to the Royal Commission must be received by 13 October of this year. While that might seem like a distant date, January is over and the coming months will race by.
Sometimes, getting started with a submission can seem overwhelming but we can help with that. If you don’t know where to start, give us a call on 1800 33 1800 and we can talk it through with you. The assistance we provide on those calls - and at all times - is free, confidential and independent.
Bullied and harassed
KATHRYN STARKEY wanted to use her advanced nursing skills to care for personnel wounded in Afghanistan. Her career lasted just eight months. Now she works as a DAVLS lawyer.
I decided to become a lawyer largely because of my experience in the military.
My military service was short and filled with bullying and sexual harassment.
I joined the Army as a lieutenant nursing officer in 2007, after a few years working as a civilian theatre nurse, and was posted to 2nd Health Support Battalion at Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera in Brisbane.
I joined the military because I have a military background. My father was a “dust-off medic” in the Vietnam War. He worked on helicopters evacuating wounded troops, so he saw a lot of trauma.
I specialised in neurosurgery and orthopaedic trauma and was interested in advancing those skills.
At that time, our involvement in Afghanistan was kicking off and many of the injuries required those skills.
However, although I was recruited as a theatre nurse, I was put into another area of nursing where I had no skills or experience. In the end, I was stuck in a transport yard signing off sick leave and leave applications for soldiers.
It was very dispiriting.
I was bullied by certain people in my chain of command virtually from the start. I made it known that I wasn’t happy and why. In the military, when you complain you get a big target put on your back. That’s what happened to me.
I was also sexually harassed and that continued when I was at Duntroon to do my officer training. I did my training and the abusive behaviours continued.
I went through the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce set up after a sexual abuse incident at ADFA involving the Skype video platform.
I went back to civilian nursing but because I had been treated the way I was, I needed to prove something to myself and studied law. I have always wanted to do something in the military space where I could use my experience. That’s why working as a DAVLS lawyer is perfect for me.
It can be confronting when clients have similar stories to me.
They don’t get me down or upset, but it justifies my reason for doing this work and shows that what I fought for was the right thing do.
STEVEN BARAS-MILLER is former journalist from a military family who has reinvented himself as a DAVLS lawyer.
'The mental health of veterans has been a major issue for at least a hundred years in Australia.'
What brought you in to working with veterans?
Working with veterans was a natural fit for me. I grew up in a family of veterans: my great grandfathers were at Gallipoli and France in World War 1, a grandfather was in New Guinea in World War 2 and my father fought in Vietnam.
Each generation had their own trauma from their time in the military and I grew up listening to their stories.
My great grandfather, James Colk, was at the battle of Fromelles which still has the highest casualty rate of any battle involving Australians. He carried bullet fragments in his neck and shoulder until the day he died, aged 91 in 1988. My father was badly wounded by a booby trap in Vietnam. I think the trauma of their experiences never really left them.
Helping veterans articulate the kind of trauma they experienced is what drew me to this role, and I do feel honoured to be able to do this work.
What did you do before you joined DAVLS?
Immediately prior to working at DAVLS I worked in two of the larger personal injury law firms in Melbourne. These were my first roles in the law after working for the ABC on programs like Australian Story and the 7.30 Report for over 20 years.
What do you enjoy about your role?
In many ways my work at DAVLS is very similar to the work I did at Australian Story.
At DAVLS our role is to tell the personal story of current and former members of the ADF in a way that is clear and easy to understand. I was lucky enough to work on an episode of Australian Story about Teddy Sheean and his family’s campaign for him to be awarded a Victoria Cross. I see a lot of crossover between telling his story and that of DAVLS clients.
What would you like the Royal Commission to achieve?
The mental health of veterans has been a major issue for at least a hundred years in Australia.
My great-grandfather’s commanding officer at Fromelles, Pompey Elliot, took his own life in the 1930s and I think what happened at Fromelles must have played a part in that.
The Royal Commission is long overdue and clearly the best result would be a world where veteran suicide does not exist.
In the short term I would hope the veteran entitlement system is made less complex with a greater emphasis on mental health over (but not instead of) financial compensation.
In the news
Using the media to spread the word about DAVLS
From the east coast to the west, our lawyers have been highlighting the services we provide across Australia.
In January our Brisbane lawyer Kathryn Starkey, along with Mitch Caubo in Perth, spoke to media outlets about the assistance they deliver in our nation’s largest states.
The media is a powerful tool for spreading the word, and since boosting our communications staff late last year, we have seen a boost in the number of people contacting us.
Outside the wire - outreach across the nation
Solicitor Gerry Stapleton and former Army reservist at Holsworthy Barracks at an outreach last year.
In NSW we are excited to further expand our outreach into the community.
This month, we’ll have a stall at the National NDIS and Mental Health Conference in Sydney. We hope to connect with a network of health professionals and other stakeholders who may be able to spread the word about the Royal Commission and the importance of veterans being heard.
We will be doing work in the Shoalhaven and Nowra areas, Wagga Wagga, Newcastle and the Central Coast. We are going to be attending community events and working to continue to spread the word about the Royal Commission and how DAVLS can help get stories heard by that inquiry.
Yolanda, our lawyer in Newcastle, is very much looking forward to attending the Singleton Military Area Family Day on 4 February and the ADF Transition Seminar in Newcastle on 28 June.
Back in August, we spoke about DAVLS at the Gaythorne RSL Sub-Branch General Meeting and were approached by a number of new clients after this event.
The President subsequently invited us back to be the guest speaker at the Gaythorne RSL Sub-Branch Volunteers’ Dinner in December.
In her speech, DAVLS lawyer Kathryn provided some personal reflections and spoke about the importance of the Royal Commission and the need for people to participate in it.
(See Kathryn’s story at the top of this newsletter).
She spoke about her father’s experience in the Vietnam War and his subsequent battle with DVA, and about her poor experience in the Army.
In South Australia, DAVLS is gearing up for another busy year.
Our SA team will continue to build relationships, and strengthen its engagement, with members of the veteran and Defence communities.
This will involve travelling to parts of the state that are regional and remote. We want people to know our service can be accessed from anywhere and reduce any barriers or accessibility issues.
Our focus for the next month will be on promoting the Royal Commission dates and our ancillary advice service. That service helps people with legal issues that are not directly related to the preparation of their submission to the inquiry.
While focusing on engagement, we will continue to help clients with written submissions and preparing for their private sessions.
We anticipate there will be an increase in demand for our service in SA when public hearings are held in Adelaide in the second half of 2023.
DAVLS lawyers Mitch Caubo (left) and Jim Moss in Busselton.
In the lead up to the Royal Commission coming to Perth for its public hearings in May 2023, DAVLS will be conducting additional outreach across metropolitan and regional WA.
With our new lawyer, Jim Moss, joining Mitch Caubo in our WA team, we’ll have a greater presence across the nation’s largest state than ever before!
First up will be a trip to Karratha, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
From 13 to 16 February 2023, Mitch will be attending Aboriginal Justice Open Days in Karratha and Roebourne, engaging with the Pilbara Regiment (Australian Army), and meeting with the local RSL sub-branch.
We encourage any current and ex-serving ADF members, family members, carers and supporters living in Karratha or the surrounding area to contact our Info Line to take advantage of Mitch being available for face-to-face appointments in that part of WA.
Given the recent floods in the Kimberley, our plans for outreach in Broome and Derby have been put on hold for now, but we hope to get out there soon.
In and around Perth, Jim and Mitch will also be delivering a presentation to the SAS Association (February), attending a military-to-civilian career summit hosted by Working Spirit (March), running a stall at an ADF Transitions Seminar (May), and speaking with veterans recently employed in the mining industry.
DAVLS lawyer Steven Baras-Miller - see his story in 'Role Play' towards the top of this newsletter.
With three new lawyers in place, our Victorian team is gearing up for a busy 2023.
We started our year of community legal education at the Midsumma Festival in Melbourne as part of the Victoria Legal Aid stall. It was great to speak with so many festival goers and stall holders about the Royal Commission and how we can help them engage with it.
We also have a very exciting event to announce.
DAVLS has partnered with Cinema Nova in Carlton for a special pre-release screening of the film “Living” starring Bill Nighy.
The screening will be preceded by an information session by DAVLS lawyers and representatives from Melbourne Legacy and other ex-service organisations about the Royal Commission and how we are all assisting veterans and their families.
The film was selected because it echoes the experience of so many of our clients who are looking for ways to be “Living” after experiencing trauma.
This is among the first of a series of similar outreach events DAVLS will be making across the state as we prepare for the Royal Commission to come to Victoria in the second half of 2023.
We will also be commencing outreach to prisons across the state to engage with veterans, both jail staff and prisoners, about how we can help them make submissions to the Royal Commission.
DAVLS solicitors Isabelle Whyte (left) and Rachael Taylor.
Our ACT solicitors have had a busy month, including welcoming a new solicitor, Rachael, to the team.
Rachael previously worked in the criminal law section at Legal Aid ACT and is keen to help DAVLS clients to safely share their experiences with the Royal Commission.
The ACT DAVLS team is looking forward to focusing on community engagement this year, with February already filling up with outreach events.
There are several exciting events coming up including the Welcome to Canberra ADF families event and ADF Transition Seminars, and they will be excellent opportunities to engage with the local defence community.
DAVLS staff will also be attending the University of Canberra and Australian National University Orientation Weeks to share information about DAVLS’ assistance.
In addition to outreach events, our Canberra staff continue to assist ACT and interstate clients, particularly in relation to preparing submissions and requesting private sessions with Royal Commissioners.
1000 calls and counting – DAVLS helpline marks milestone
We provide information, referrals and help with submissions and private sessions through ourfree DAVLS helpline on 1800 33 1800, and call volumes continue to rise.
Our free Information Line handled its 1000th call late last year 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. We will 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. Once they reach us through existing channels, we communicate with them through videolink.
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 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).
- 15 May 2023 - hearings start in Perth.
- 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: