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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
18/11/2015
Mental health of returned Australian Defence Force personnel

EVANS, Mr Geoffrey, Ambassador and Founder, Homes for Heroes, RSL LifeCare

TALBOT, Mr Adrian, Manager, Homes for Heroes, RSL LifeCare

Committee met at 08:59

CHAIR ( Senator Gallacher ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. This public hearing is in relation to the committee's inquiry into the mental health of ADF serving personnel. I welcome everyone here today. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made.

Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in the giving of evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

I would like to emphasise that, while the committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. If you would like any of your evidence to be heard in camera, please do not hesitate to let the committee know. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. As noted previously, such a request may be made at any other time.

I welcome representatives from RSL LifeCare's Homes for Heroes. Would one of you like to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Mr Evans : Yes, I will. I think it is important to clear the air about a couple of things. In particular, we are talking about homeless veterans. Our testimony today is on homelessness. We run the only national level homeless veterans program in the country. As far as I know, there is no other program in the country that is providing the comprehensive services that we are, and that is a combination of whole-of-person wraparound services.

When we talk about homeless veterans, we are not talking about people who are living rough on the streets. Of the 71 veterans that we have housed, only a fraction of them had been living rough—perhaps half-a-dozen. I cannot remember the exact number. But many of them are living in cars, couch-surfing and things like that. So 'homeless' implies that they are without a home, not without a house. Our experience is that veterans will not access mainstream homelessness services, particularly when they are young, because in the main it is too much of an admission of how far they have fallen.

When we talk about veterans, you will have seen the number 3,000 to 5,000 bandied about in the media quite a lot. That number talks about members of the Defence community, so it is veterans plus partners, for example, or immediate family of veterans, not just veterans themselves. I think that is appropriate because partners and immediate family will have been profoundly affected by the veteran's service, and if they are homeless as a result of that service then we should be looking after them as well.

In addition, the report that that figure relies on was commissioned in 1999 and a follow-up study was delivered in 2009. It does not really include the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. It reports on veterans up to and including around the East Timor date and makes very vague reference to the conflicts that were still going at the time that that follow-up report was done. Certainly what we are seeing now is that younger and younger veterans are entering our programs. Our youngest is 22.

The way they get here is always the same: 100 per cent of the veterans entering Homes for Heroes have ongoing chronic mental health problems, usually comorbid with some sort of drug and alcohol addiction, whether it be prescription medications or alcohol. The media this morning is reporting that we have an ice epidemic—that is not the case. A very small percentage of our veterans will have used ice, particularly the younger ones.

Family break down is ubiquitous. We take a lot of calls from wives and mothers who will have had a loved one go to war and come back a totally different person. They will say things like, 'I love them; I want them to stay here, but they become violent or abusive and they just cannot stay. Can you take them?' Those calls, in particular, are the most horrendous. The partners did not sign up to go to war, but nobody is supporting them. Even with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, remember, the client is the veteran—not the family member.

Others experience financial problems. We have had incidents where people have been discharged from Defence, medically, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs have only paid four weeks post discharge but it has taken many months to process their pension claims. So they end up, for a long period of time, without an income.

The last thing I would like to talk about is one of the most common pathways into homelessness is when a veteran goes into a private clinic, under the Department of Veterans' Affairs—and some of these clinics can charge up to $1,000 a day—when they discharge there is no follow-up plan. They go in acutely symptomatic and get a sustained period of treatment. They become well again whilst they are in that structured environment. Then they are discharged into the ether. It is only a matter of time when they completely fall over—again—and go back into hospital.

One of our residents, here, has been through that cycle 18 times—possibly 16, but I think it is 18 times that he has been in and out of clinics—for a four-week stay each time at the cost of around $1,000 a day. The average number of admissions to private mental-health service providers is four times each. But when they are discharged there is no screening tool to ask them, 'Where are you going? What is the follow-up support you are going to get?' And it becomes a revolving door. That should be fairly easily fixed with the contracts that are provided by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, because DVA purchases these services from the health providers. The terms of the contract should stipulate that follow-up care needs to be provided, but they are currently not. That concludes my opening statement. Thank you.

CHAIR: You are saying there are 3,000 to 4,000 people who are not sleeping on the streets but are in limbo and out of a house, basically, and have support. What efforts did the Army, Navy or Air Force take to prevent that happening or do you think they contributed to that happening by the way they got moved out of the service?

Mr Evans : Defence's view is that once they are discharged they are the Department of Veterans' Affairs' problem. The problem is, only about a fifth of people who are discharged—

CHAIR: Is it that Defence is looking that way, needing an Army, Air Force and Navy that is 100 per cent, and when people are not 100 per cent they move the responsibility to someone else as quickly as they can?

Mr Evans : That is exactly right. Defence is a forward-looking organisation looking to fight the next war. It is easy to think of a soldier in the Defence Force as a piece of the machinery. Once that part becomes defective they are simply thrown out and a new part is put in. That is why they have a Department of Veterans' Affairs, so Defence can continue to look forward to the next war and does not need to be looking back to what happened to its soldiers.

CHAIR: There is no other employer of its size, in Australia, that would be able to get away with it.

Mr Evans : That is exactly right.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I want to put on record it was Mr Evans's story—aired on Four Corners about eight or nine months ago—that motivated me to seek support to get this inquiry up, because I was so troubled by your story. For those committee members who have not seen that, could you give us a very brief overview of what led you to set up Homes for Heroes in the first place? Take as long as you like but brief would be better.

Mr Evans : Yes. I was wounded in action, in Afghanistan, in 2010. As part of my rehabilitation I trekked the Kokoda Trail with the CEO of RSL LifeCare, Ron Thompson. He said to me on the trek he had noticed that Vietnam veterans are entering his high-care nursing homes, here, at a very young age—in their 60s—when the rest of the population does not enter that level of care until they are 80 or 90. They were doing that because they had been destroyed by the war and made poor lifestyle choices afterwards—in particular, poor mental health and alcohol abuse. He wanted to find a circuit breaker to prevent my generation from being in nursing homes by the time they were 65. He asked me to come and help them and see what they could do.

We started looking around. I spoke to Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service and said, 'Look, RSL LifeCare has a lot of accommodation. What you do when someone calls in, homeless?' VVCS said, 'We do not have anything we can do.' I said, 'Next time you get someone who is homeless, call me and I will see what we can do.' They called us the next day. That was when we first realised that it was an issue. The more we looked at it the more we realised it was a very big issue, and we have just continued to grow. Like I said, we have housed 71 veterans here in 18 months, which does not sound like a lot, but we do not reach out to anybody because we do not have the resources. The 71 here are the lucky few who managed to find us.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You get about $2 million from RSL LifeCare. Is that what got you set up initially?

Mr Evans : RSL LifeCare incurs about $2 million worth of expenses in kind in the provision of the housing. RSL LifeCare provides the housing. But for the provision of the wraparound services, which is really the great piece of the puzzle that is missing for these veterans, we have to rely on donor support. We have canvassed broadly to receive that support and we have received a lot of support from the clubs industry. We have received support from some sub-branches and from the general public to provide the wraparound services. Whenever I go back through the history of anyone who entered this program, there is always a point at which, if we had intervened early, with a good career post Defence and some treatment they never would have ended up here. I know the Department of Veterans' Affairs currently has a lot of energy focused in that space, early intervention, but I think a lot more needs to be done in terms of providing people with good careers post Defence. That is because I can give people here housing, accommodation and possessions; I can give them everything a person needs except a reason to get up in the morning. That is the hardest part of what we do.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You mention in your submission you are starting to get some referrals now from Veterans' Affairs, maybe not the Department of Defence but other—

Mr Evans : No, we receive referrals from the Department of Defence as well. There have been cases where the Development of Defence have contacted us about people they were discharging and who had nowhere to go. There have been cases where the Department of Defence have discharged people into homelessness while they were still receiving treatment in hospital and they have been lucky enough to find out about us. We certainly receive referrals from the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The committee heard evidence in a previous hearing where the RSL did not want to talk about your submission. They said, 'Speak to Homes for Heroes.' They were looking at the model that you have set up here as a potential model to roll out in other parts of the country. Is it a chicken and egg thing with the recognition of vets' homelessness being the key issue in actually getting the support and getting the resources that you need to set up a more 'housing first' approach to this issue? Is the starting point that DVA does not recognise the issue? I think you said that they cut the numbers back from an estimated 300,000 homeless vets to 300. Is the issue that they are not officially recognising it is a big enough problem to put more funding and resources into facilities?

Mr Evans : My experience is that DVA rely on hard data. Like incarceration rates and suicide, they are waiting for the figures to come in before they act. They are essentially waiting to see there is a huge problem before they do anything about it. We know anecdotally it is a problem. It is very hard to come by hard data on suicide rates and incarceration rates but people out there in the ex-service community are saying it is an issue and that we need to act and it is not happening fast enough.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You talk about family breakdowns being a key issue. If I am a vet and I have issues at home, either instigated by my family or by me, what options do I have now if I am suffering mental illness? Are there any other services available to me?

Mr Talbot : I will answer that one if that is okay. If the individual is aware of the services and if they have transitioned with sufficient information upon leaving Defence—which we find it is not often the case—they can go to VVCS. VVCS provides a very good counselling service which supports the individual and the family. But the issue is making sure that that information is available to them. Sometimes in that transition, for whatever reason, they are not given that specific information, unfortunately.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I think temporary respite for families through VVCS is five days accommodation. Is that correct?

Mr Talbot : Various ESOs offer similar services, but we find that goodwill runs out quite quickly. Basically, we have a few people who are currently waiting to come into Homes for Heroes. They will support them to a point and we will then take over, because they do not have endless streams of income to support them in hotels, motels, caravan parks and things like that.

Mr Evans : Senator, I think you are talking about VVCS's time-out program. There is a program where Vietnam veterans can access up to three days of motel service—it could have been extended to five days—to have time-out if there is a domestic situation at home. But that program does not operate for people who are homeless. They cannot ring into VVCS and say, 'I'm homeless' and be put up, under those circumstances. I know that program is under review, but I do not know what the outcome will be.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: One thing I really liked about your submission is that you make a number of recommendations. You are not just highlighting a problem; you seem to have thought through the solutions. I would like to get an update on what traction you might be having with some of those suggestions or recommendations. Do you want me to continue, Chair?

CHAIR: Senator Seselja—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You can come back to me.

Senator SESELJA: I want to follow up on one of the things you said in your opening statement. You talked about one veteran who had been in and out of mental health facilities—16 to 18 times, you thought—just for a four-week stay and then they would go. They would be better at the end of the four weeks, presumably—or seemingly better—and then they would transition out and find themselves there again in a few weeks, a few months or whatever it was. Presumably this is something that has been raised with Veterans' Affairs, because you are talking about a pretty significant expense there. It is reasonable that we are paying $1,000 a day for that but, if I followed your evidence properly, you are saying that because they were not transitioned properly out of that they are finding themselves back there multiple times. Have you had any success in raising that with the Department of Veterans' Affairs and looking at changing the model and at how they could have some sort of transition plan and follow-up after people have been in facilities like that?

Mr Evans : No, I have not had any success, Senator. I have raised it with them at least half-a-dozen times. One of the biggest issues we face here is seeing that revolving door constantly. Eventually, if they are lucky, they will find us. But, no, I have not been able to get any traction on the issue. To me it seems like a fairly simple thing. We issue a tender for the contract and the contract should state that you must provide after-care services—but it does not.

CHAIR: Can we put that question on notice for the department? If we get the appropriate details, we could put that question on notice to the department and seek a response.

Mr Talbot : It is quite a scary situation. If you have an individual who has been in a hospital situation and then he has been discharged into our care, we do not have the facilities here to provide inpatient care. In all honesty, if we have an individual who is experiencing suicidal ideation we have to send them there because we cannot be around them for 24 hours a day. They come back to us quite unwell still but, as Geoff said, there is no treatment plan for them when they leave hospital. It is worrying.

Senator SESELJA: What would that look like, in your opinion? You talk about having some sort of treatment plan post the intensive treatment. What would that look like in a contractual setting or in terms of the type of care you would want to see?

Mr Evans : I think this is the crux of the issue. DVA cannot provide housing under their current act, and I understand that, but what they should be providing is complex psychosocial case management such as we do. What we do is look at the individual and start wrapping the services they need around them—psychological support, social support, employment support or anything they need. The Department of Veterans' Affairs could do that if they allocated a proper caseworker to the individual and then assisted them once they were discharged. Ideally, the caseworker would know when they went into hospital and when they went out. They would follow their progress, and whatever support they needed the department would provide, along the same lines as what a social worker would do.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The recommendation we have had from other witnesses is that caseworkers are really important. In the USA they have a different approach, where a lot of them are assigned to caseworkers. DVA has told us they are starting to increase the numbers now, but it has not been an approach that we have been adopting.

Mr Evans : The support services that the veterans need exist, but by the time they become homeless they are too unwell to access them. They cannot ring a doctor and make an appointment and then get to the appointment and see them. If you are suffering from severe depression, you cannot even get out of bed. They just cannot tie it all together. They need someone to do that for them until they are back on their feet—and then manage them along and, if they have a little slip along the way, be there for them to plug them into the appropriate services provided. It just does not happen. If you had someone there to provide that service and tie it all together, very few veterans would end up homeless, because the key to being homeless is poor mental health.

Senator STERLE: Has the RSL, Homes for Heroes or anyone else done any costings on how much you would need to implement such a follow-up service?

Mr Evans : No.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You have been doing it yourself.

Mr Evans : We have estimated that the cost of housing a veteran here is about $20,000 a year. That includes providing that psychosocial service.

Senator STERLE: Did you say $20,000 a year?

Mr Evans : That is per veteran, including accommodation. If you take out the accommodation factor—

Senator STERLE: It is not a lot of money in the context of what this nation spends on other things.

Mr Evans : You are talking essentially about employing a social worker to monitor a veteran—whatever they cost per year and how many veterans each of them can look after.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: At our Brisbane hearing, we also explored who would be suitable to be a caseworker. Do you work with other veterans' groups—referral networks? One idea that was put to us was that other veterans who were in better shape and who wanted to help could be in a position to work as caseworkers—what was the term they used

Mr Talbot : Peer support?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes, that is right.

Mr Talbot : I think that would be a fantastic solution to one of the many problems we face. We have a constant stream of individuals coming through our program and we are now looking at putting some of those who are further down their recovery pathway on educational courses. A few of our residents were actually doing educational courses yesterday in this field—but they still have to be able to live. They get to that point where they have transitioned—they are ready to move out of the village—but then they need employment. A peer support program with other veterans helping veterans would, I think, be a great solution to this issue.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That has been suggested to us, but do you know of anyone who has been doing any work on putting it together? I know that groups like Mates4Mates, Soldier On and you have sprung up to service veterans, but is there anything more formal happening in this respect?

Mr Talbot : We do it every day, unofficially. We put in a tender to deviate recently, but unfortunately we were not successful in that. I believe, however, that St John of God in Richmond and DefenceCare are working on a program. We are hoping that, in the near future, the peer support leaders will come out and help start that program here—because it is greatly needed.

Mr Evans : That is a pilot program in peer supports funded by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, which is a good step forward.

CHAIR: I understand the good work you do and that there are a number of other organisations in the same space, but I cannot get my head around the fact that Defence is allowed to create this situation and not invest more completely in discharging people in proper shape. Is there anything that Defence does well when people are being discharged—or do they just move people on quickly? I have heard about people reporting an incident, getting assessed and then being out in a couple of weeks. They are actually saying, 'I am unwell,' and their repayment for that is not help; instead they get discharged into oblivion where they cannot lodge their forms—and someone like your organisation has to pick them up. That is disgraceful.

Mr Evans : That is the reality.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you expand on that? Is it because they want to sweep it under the carpet? Is it because they—

Mr Evans : I think it is because they are a forward-looking organisation looking to the next war—and because they have the Department of Veterans' Affairs to hand people back to. I understand that they need to be a forward-looking organisation, but I also think they do have a responsibility to the people they are discharging. They have a career transition assistance scheme, but it is grossly inadequate at best. In the US they are offering people four-year degrees in trades training. That is the level we need to be operating at: give people a proper career after Defence. We are just not doing it.

Senator STERLE: You did say that you rely on donations and in-kind support, and you mentioned Clubs Australia. Are there any other partnerships or enterprises or major employers or businesses that come out and say they will take on some of the vets and help with training and give them the opportunity to have a pathway to a job?

Mr Talbot : There is a lot of movement in this area but there is nothing concrete as yet. There are a lot of people who want to support Homes for Heroes and what we are doing but it is quite sporadic.

Senator STERLE: They support you in donations, not with opportunities for training and that sort of thing?

Mr Talbot : We do have those opportunities though; again, it has come from Clubs Australia. They are offering employment to veterans at that point in their recovery when they are ready to return to work. We get the individuals when unfortunately they have been neglected by the entire system, so they are right at that embryonic stage of their recovery. It can take six months to get people to that point where they are ready to return to work, or it could take four years. It may never happen. People are offering us employment opportunities but we have not got the individuals on the program back to that point where they are ready to return to work.

Senator STERLE: This comes back to the $20,000 per vet that we talked about earlier I do not wish to sound condescending when I say it is not a lot of money—it is not a lot of money to a country that is doing well; it is a lot of money to you guys particularly when you do not have it.

Mr Evans : By the time a veteran gets to us, they are so unwell that it can take a very long time to get them back to work, if ever. The vast majority of veterans who discharge are not that unwell. Most will be fine. Some will recover very quickly with some good treatment and a good job. I know the New South Wales state government is about to run a program where they are preferencing 200 veterans in employment. We did that sort of thing after the first and second world wars and it had good outcomes. We did not do it after Vietnam, and we know how it turned out for that generation. I think that sort of preferencing in employment, particularly in government employment, would be a dramatic positive step forward for veterans coming out of defence.

Senator STERLE: It is good that the New South Wales government are looking at it, but to your knowledge the feds are not even in that space. Have you put it to the feds?

Mr Evans : I have not had a chance.

Senator STERLE: I can understand that when you keep banging your head against a brick wall it hurts after a while.

Senator SESELJA: You talk in your submission about the program Supportive Services for Veteran Families in the US. You have recommended that we take a similar path. Can you elaborate a little on what that would look like here in Australia?

Mr Evans : We find it is very often the case that if veterans' families had received support the family unit would not have broken down and the veteran would not have become homeless and ended up with drug and alcohol abuse problems. We could have stemmed a lot of the pain and suffering if we had supported the family. But the client is always the veteran, not the family. Nobody talks to the families. We do a very poor job of communicating. A lot of families out there do not know what PTSD is—they have never heard of it and they do not know what they are dealing with when people come back. I have seen a lot of cases where families have sent me a list of 'I need this, this and this', and all those services exist but they just have no idea how to access them. I cannot overemphasise the need to support families, not just veterans, because the family unit ultimately is at the coalface of dealing with PTSD.

CHAIR: We did take evidence on this in Brisbane, and on questioning we found that families would receive information but think it did not affect them and the brochure would go in the bin. Then when a problem arose they would realise what it was all about. People do ignore services.

Mr Evans : It is difficult.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: One of your recommendations was that the DVA issue a response to its 2008 report Veterans at Risk, taking particular note of the options and recommendations contained within the report. Can you tell us a little more about that report?

Mr Evans : The report Veterans at Risk made a number of strong recommendations that DVA should move more into the homelessness space for veterans.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Seven or eight years ago.

Mr Evans : Yes. I think they did eventually issue a response in 2011. In theory, some of the things are happening. In theory, in Canberra there is someone who understands all the homelessness service products that state-based providers offer but in reality it does not translate down on the ground. If I am a homeless veteran and I ring the 1800 number to talk to Veterans' Affairs, the person I am talking to on the line will not refer me to someone who can call someone who is a state based homelessness provider and get me into the house through those services. The unwell person making the call would not be able to do it themselves. One of the strong recommendations that came out of that report, which I have echoed in our submission, is that with the Department of Veterans Affairs' there is a bit of buck-passing. They will say homelessness is a state issue and the states say veterans affairs is a federal issue. That is true, but what Veterans' Affairs could do is case manage that individual into one of the state based services, if they are not going to change their act to provide housing themselves, and it does not happen.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you recommend that they do change the act to provide housing? Your housing first recommendation is pretty strong.

Mr Evans : I think it would be very difficult to change the act to provide housing, but I would like to see them change the act to provide ownership of the individual to look after the veterans, which is their charter if they are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and case manage them into a safe, secure home so that they can start their rehabilitation.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: One of your direct recommendations was that DVA expand the definition of 'homeless veteran' for the purpose of benefits and eligibility. In line with what you have recommended, have you had any discussions with them around that?

Mr Evans : I have had discussions with the department around that. I am told they get shut down by the Department of Finance.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. That is not surprising.

Mr Evans : It would be a significant extra cost but, if the wife of a veteran and the veteran separate, she could up without an income. She is serving too. The partners of veterans are still serving, yet we do not provide them with the level of support that we do for the veteran.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In one of the case studies you provided there was a wife having a breakdown eventually because of having to deal with these circumstances, and the children had to have counselling themselves. It all started with those poor transition arrangements. You also suggest DVA should adopt:

…a similar program to the Supportive Services for Veteran's Families Program, instituted by the US Veterans' Affairs Department in 2008. The program provides tangible assistance for bond deposits, rent and mortgage assistance, utilities assistance, re-housing, relocation expenses and other supportive services.

Is there anything of that nature going on here at all which is holistic like that?

Mr Evans : There is not. Some of the state based homeless service products are similar to those sorts of things. I only know about New South Wales. We have housing commission homes. We have rental supplements and bond supplements, but veterans are not able to access them through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. That is why I was saying that Veterans Affairs' should case manage the individual who is homeless, or their partner who has become homeless, and get them through to access those services if they are not going to provide them themselves.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You have made a number of recommendations around transition. Transition seems to be the main theme the committee has heard about in all of its four inquiries: how can we get the early intervention working and have a better transition program? Your second recommendation was:

Defence remove the option for veterans to elect to separate without commencing claims through DVA, in order to safeguard veterans separating from Defence without adequate financial, medical or psychological support.

Would you suggest that that is removed entirely, or—

Mr Evans : Yes, absolutely, because we are seeing some veterans who are unwell looking for the fastest exit, because they just want to get out of Defence.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: We heard that, too. They wanted to get as far away from it all as possible.

Mr Evans : If they do not commence their paperwork before they are discharged they can be facing a time lag of many, many months, and they do not realise that once they are out of Defence there is no income coming in. If you have no income, particularly if you are young, you are not going to last long before you are homeless or at risk of homelessness. I do not think they think that far ahead, because they are caught in a spiral of PTSD and just trying to get out.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: With your personal situation, Mr Evans, did you realise at the time of your discharge that, with your experiences, you may have problems? Did you go through that process yourself? We have heard there is a stigma associated with things like PTSD and other mental illnesses—especially diggers not wanting to talk about it, acknowledge it or talk to their families about it, or they do not want to prejudice future employment by having it on record that they might have an issue. As a committee, how do we deal with this issue where the stigma is one of the problems that we have to tackle?

Mr Evans : What is your question, Senator?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: With your personal situation, when you went through discharge and transition, were you aware at the time that you had an issue and there might be potential problems down the track?

Mr Evans : No, I was not; I did not recognise I had PTSD at all. I was one of the fortunate ones. I had a very strong wife, I had good family support and I got some good advocacy support from DefenceCare as well. That is one of the reasons I am so passionate about this: I was one of the very lucky ones. A lot of young guys discharging do not have that family support and do not know where to access help. I did and I was very fortunate; otherwise, I would perhaps be a resident here myself.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have asked this a few times, but other people I have been talking to about this inquiry have asked me the same thing. I am sorry, Mr Talbot, I do not know about your personal situation with your service, but I know about Mr Evans's. It would seem obvious to me that, after what you been through, you would be at high risk of having something like PTSD. I know it is a very individual thing and some people do not but, given the likelihood of developing these problems further down the track, even if you will not acknowledge them, why isn't a safety net put in place anyway? I would have thought it a high risk that these kinds of things are going to happen. That is not even acknowledged by DVA or the Department of Defence?

Mr Evans : Unfortunately, there is no proactive approach. There have been some changes where DVA are calling people who are clients, but if someone discharges from Defence and they do not want to lodge a claim with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, which is four out of every five people leaving, there will be no follow-up; there is no proactive approach. We know the key here is early intervention. If we could get in early, in cost savings alone, it would save a fortune down the track.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would it be too much to ask that where service people have been through various deployments and other things we have been looking at we should assume, whether they have developed problems or not, that they will and therefore take that approach?

Mr Evans : No, I do not think so, Senator. Evidence says that only about one in five will develop ongoing problems. We could assume that if we provide proper transition services that one-in-five figure will be a lot less. But it is worth saying that we know that perhaps 20 per cent people will have problems and it is worth following up because, if we get in early, we can save the human suffering. We can save the net costs of watching that person spiral down, destroy their family, become an alcoholic and end up on the streets, and then of supporting them for the rest of their life on welfare. We could stop that happening early.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You have made a lot of great recommendations in that respect. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go through them now.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your evidence here today.