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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Care of Australian Defence Force personnel wounded and injured on operations
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Content WindowParliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade - 26/03/2013 - Care of Australian Defence Force personnel wounded and injured on operations
Soldier J, Soldier Recovery Centre, Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera
Soldier K, Soldier Recovery Centre, Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera
Soldier L, Soldier Recovery Centre, Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera
Soldier M, Soldier Recovery Centre, Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera
Soldier N, Soldier Recovery Centre, Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera
Soldier P, Soldier Recovery Centre, Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera
Subcommittee met at 10:09
CHAIR (Senator Furner): I declare open this hearing of the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on the care of ADF personnel wounded and injured on operations. I welcome soldiers from the Soldier Recovery Centre to today's hearing. Thank you very much for making yourselves available to give evidence to the committee. I would like to briefly explain to you the committee's inquiry and our purposes here today.
Federal parliament's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee has been asked to examine the management and support of ADF personnel wounded and injured on operations. The committee has asked that its Defence subcommittee, of which we are members, conduct the inquiry. To date, the Defence subcommittee has visited other soldier-recovery centres, both in Darwin and Townsville, and heard evidence from a large number of agencies, such as the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans' Affairs, to smaller support organisations, like Young Diggers and the Centre for Military and Veterans' Health.
The committee is close to concluding the gathering of evidence for the inquiry. I will go through the terms of reference with you, so you have some idea. The committee has been asked to focus on: the care of wounded and injured ADF personnel while in operational areas; repatriation arrangements, to Australia, for wounded and injured personnel; care of wounded and injured personnel on return to Australia, including ongoing health, welfare and rehabilitation-support arrangements, returning-to-work arrangements and management for personnel who can return to ADF service and management of personnel who cannot return to service; the transition from ADF managed health care and support to DVA managed health care and support; and ongoing health care and support, post transition, from the ADF.
It is of paramount importance to us as parliamentarians that the systems and processes to care for, repatriate and rehabilitate or transition ADF personnel wounded and injured are efficient and effective. These proceedings today will be recorded and a transcript will be prepared and may be used in our report. To protect your privacy and to allow you to speak fairly to us we intend to use the titles you see on the cards in front of you. It would be appreciated though if you could complete a witness form, which I think all of you have done. The committee does not require you to give evidence under oath; however, this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament.
The evidence given today will attract parliamentary privilege. This means that you are protected from any legal proceedings on account of the evidence you give. We will start by giving each of you an opportunity to give a short overview of what wound or injury you received and your recovery experience. Following that, there will be questions from the senators and members in front of you. We will start with Soldier J.
Soldier J: I was in Afghanistan in January 2012. I injured my back early on in the trip. Later on, I increased the injury and made it a bit worse and then they ended up sending me home two weeks short of my deployment return-home date. I found out that I have degeneration of the discs between the T4 and T7 in my back. Two months after I returned I also got diagnosed with testicular cancer. I had that removed and the chemotherapy required for that. Now, because of the surgery, I have a femoral hernia, so I am also recovering from that and waiting to see if I am having surgery to get that fixed.
Soldier K: I was overseas in Afghanistan in 2010. I injured my lowest disc, 1L5—I think that is correct—but I continued because I only had two weeks left in the country. I came back and after a break was sent to see the doctor. In the end, about a year-and-a-half later, I ended up getting surgery to replace the disc and since then I have slowly been recovering. It has been a long process but most of the information has been good.
Soldier L: I was also in Afghanistan in 2010. Over the eight-month period that I was there, from wearing incorrectly-fitting body armour—with front plates in the back and sitting in a driver's seat at a 90-degree angle—I ended up a lot of back problems. I have been slowly rehabilitating over the past two years. Also, on return from Afghanistan I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, due to being involved in a number of incidents. I am still seeking treatment for that and am currently facing medical discharge for that as well.
Soldier M: Once again, my injury was sustained in Afghanistan. I was on MTF2 for 2010-2011. I was over there for nine months. Close to the end of my tour, I tore the cartilage in my left hip, subsequently got told it was a groin strain and continued on with the rest of my rotation. Upon my return to Australia, the doctors did some X-rays and just sent me to physio. I got posted to Brisbane at the beginning of last year. I went to see them down at the hospital here, and subsequently it turned out that I had completely torn the cartilage away. I am left with bone on bone. I have since had surgery. They were going to reshape the joint. They found out that they could not reshape it, that they had to drill holes and microfracture and remove the remainder of the cartilage. Subsequently I am left with bilateral hip osteoarthritis, just waiting on discharge now.
Soldier N: In 2009 to 2010 in Afghanistan I was wounded by a dismounted IED. I sustained approximately 100 puncture wounds to my upper left shoulder, rear buttocks and leg and a dislocated left shoulder. I made a full recovery within a couple of weeks and was sent back out to patrol base. I was wounded a second time in November 2009, where I chipped two front teeth, almost completely lost them, and was knocked out. Since then, I have made pretty much a full recovery, with just a few minor things on the way.
Soldier P: I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. Upon returning, I discovered that I had injured my lower back. It has been diagnosed with a bulging disc in my L4-L5. I spent 2011 recovering. I was still not yet 100 per cent but deployed in a less intensive role to Afghanistan again in 2012.
CHAIR: Did you do a full deployment in 2012?
Soldier P: It was not as long as the first one.
CHAIR: Excellent. We will start with some questions. We will start with Dr Jensen first.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: A doctor but not of medicine!
Dr JENSEN: No, sorry—physics not physician. Thanks very much. It is shocking seeing particularly the amount of injuries that are actually not combat or action related but related to equipment and basically the method by which things are undertaken. Back injury seems to be a significant problem. Can anyone think first of what should be done to reduce the incidence of back injury?
Soldier J: I weighed my kit over there—body armour, weapon, and carrying all the equipment stuff that went in for all that. It weighed 51 kilos, which is more than half my body weight, and we did 15- to 20-kilometre patrols with that. It is hard to say what way to bring it down. The stuff we carried was necessary, but it is just hard not to get back injuries when you are carrying that sort of weight. My injury occurred because I was carrying that and I jumped and landed awkwardly, and from then on it just got worse.
Dr JENSEN: What terrain were you predominantly carrying that over?
Soldier J: It is ridiculous. It can go from flat and muddy with trenches, or we could be climbing up and down rocky mountain faces. It just changes all the time. I was there in the middle of winter, so it snowed. Your boots would get covered in mud and then freeze, so your feet were heavy as well.
CHAIR: It was 51 kilos. Do any of you know what weight the helmets are?
Soldier M: Not that heavy—I think they are seven? I cannot remember.
Soldier P: The helmet weight is not that significant to warrant an excessive amount of an injury. It is more or less what you would call your battle rattle—all the things that you need to do to conduct operations overseas and patrol. There are two points. One is a good one. I saw from 2010 to 2012 that the equipment changes were quite significant, and they have come a long, long way. I take it down to the idea that they have actually listened to the guys on the ground and what they require. Also, we find that, when you are deployed on operations, that is when you start seeing a lot of that equipment. In between times, and now, particularly when we are coming into a peacetime period, we are not seeing that equipment and training with it to prepare longevity to operations. Just a second point on that, to assist in preventing those injury, is actually conditioning soldiers—not just, 'You will carry it and you will hump it,' but just training them a bit more in a sports-science-specific way to condition guys at a base level and then move up into that heavy-load-bearing stuff.
Dr JENSEN: You say you have noticed quite significant changes in the two years from 2010 to 2012. In what regard?
Soldier P: I am talking body armour and operationally specific stuff: equipment with regard to pouches—your load carriage—and also the equipment that you are actually carrying. With a lot of our protective measures and countermeasures that we had to carry, the load is lightened on that. Weapons have also changed, which has decreased the load that we need to carry on that as well.
Dr JENSEN: In terms of some of these injuries and the method of carriage, is there any way that you can recommend to maybe redistribute the weight or, indeed, maybe even do something like pulling a trolley with gear in it behind you or whatever.
Soldier N: Quad bikes. We do not have enough quad bikes over there for roles such as mine, where you move into sniper aisles and things like that. We were not given quad bikes. We were stomping in with 60 or 70 kilos—five or six days rations. That could easily be cut down if we had a quad bike. Simple equipment demands such as that would save us two or three days on mission tasks. That is two or three days we are not in front of the enemy, and that is two or three days that we are saving ourselves to get out there. So it is simple, and we are not seeing it back in Australia. If we are going out on a mission profile or anything like that, and we say, 'Okay, where are our quad bikes?' everyone turns around and laughs at us.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sorry? Are you saying you should have a quad bike to get from the base to the—
Soldier N: To wherever we are operating—up to an OP.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is that militarily feasible?
Soldier N: Absolutely.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are not a bigger target?
Soldier N: The thinking behind it is that we are not spending as long on the ground between the FOB and the target, so we are keeping in front of the enemy's network itself. They have to walk out there and put the IED out, but if we can speed past them then we are in front of them already. So that is the thinking behind using motor over foot.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are there any quad bikes in—
Soldier N: Every other country is using them bar us. There are a few around, but they are for the CSMs and the patrol bases to drop their rubbish and stuff off.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What is the chatter about why you have not got them?
Soldier N: I think it is the general chatter—the same reason we do not have the full weapons suite down in battalions. It is the same reason: money. That is our general thinking, from the soldiers looking up. We are asking for equipment—quad bikes, because they would provide us with a better capability—but it is not getting delivered.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Out of your military roles, you would know this: what is a quad bike worth?
Soldier N: Ten grand or thereabouts.
Dr JENSEN: It strikes me that, just in terms of the expense of recuperation and potentially losing personnel, that would be money well spent. Mark and I were in Afghanistan a couple of years ago, and it strikes me that in most of the terrain, particularly around Tarin Kowt and some of the FOBs there, quad bikes would be entirely feasible. Are you just talking about special forces here, or are you talking more generally as well?
Soldier N: More generally. Mind you, it is not at every opportunity that you would want to jump on a motorbike.
Dr JENSEN: Yes, sure.
Soldier N: There is the IED threat. However, when carrying a large load to move a platoon into a platoon house, for example, you could secure a route and move everyone's equipment down there in one simple move. That would save doing an insertion by an IT. The enemy threat is lower. Everything is a lot lower because of the simple fact that you have a bike. I think we need to change our way of thinking, where we say, 'No, we're going to walk in rather than have a motorbike.' Yes, sure, it is noisy, but in carriage of equipment we could get a lot more ammunition, water and food on to the target as quick as possible.
Senator FAWCETT: Can I just follow up. Are you suggesting them for each platoon or each section or each soldier? What level are you suggesting?
Soldier N: I am not too sure what the break-up would need to be, but I think we need more, smaller vehicles. As to whether it is down to company, platoon or section, I am not too sure what the break-up that is needed would be, but there is definitely a need for that capability for the battalion.
Dr JENSEN: In some other evidence that was given, what struck me was that some of you had back injuries where earlier identification would potentially have resulted in less of a problem. Would you agree with that? What can be done, if that is in fact correct, to make sure people get that treatment earlier so it does not become so much of a problem?
Soldier J: My problem with mine was that I had originally done it and thought it was muscular because it was not that bad. We had a medic on base, and he was like: 'Oh, yeah, here's some pain relief. If it gets any worse, come see me again.' It did not really get any worse until I pretty much fell off a wall and hurt it real bad, but your medic on your FOB can only do so much. There are no X-ray machines or anything like that, so they have to try to sort out a chopper to come pick you up just to go back for an X-ray. It was almost impossible for me to get back to Tarin Kot.
Dr JENSEN: So you were at an FOB when you sustained these injuries?
Soldier J: Yes, I was. I had to wait a day for a chopper to get back to TK to get diagnosed. I saw American doctors and everything over there. I was lucky to get a chopper flight out.
Soldier L: I think the other issue on operations is that a lot of times you put it all aside. You just deal with it. That is why a lot of guys will forget about it while they are over there and just push through the pain. That is why there are so many problems when they get back; by then they have gotten worse. Like he was saying, a medic can only do so much for you over there. You are not always able to go back to Tarin Kot or wherever to get medical help. A lot of guys do not want to risk getting sent home, either, because a lot of guys do not want to leave their mates.
Dr JENSEN: It sounds like there is a cultural problem where there is, in effect, a clash of one culture with another. What I am getting at is that, being soldiers, you are trained to tough it out, deal with it, press on regardless, that sort of things; but, on the other hand, the culture that would be ideal from the perspective of ensuring that you guys do not get injured any more than the minimal amount possible would have the reporting of those conditions and identification of those problems as early as possible. Obviously those two cultures would be working against each other. Can anyone think of a way that we can get around that? What sort of things can be introduced to ensure that there is earlier reporting of these problems that are going to become major problems or other ways of dealing with these things before they become major problems?
Soldier P: I can reference that to a sort of barracks environment. Particularly at the moment, I am not sure what our medical system is doing with it, but there are four to five units being seen at once health facility on base. For me to follow up to see a doctor, because a doctor was booked out for two weeks time, I had to wait three hours in a waiting room just to get a restriction to help myself and show the hierarchy that I am working through something and need to protect myself from that. I think that, since they have changed the medical system, people are less inclined to wait it out and would rather tough it out or wait the week to two weeks for a medical booking.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What do you mean 'changed the medical system'?
Soldier P: Basically, you used to come down to units where you had a medical officer, a couple of nurses and some medics who were dedicated to your unit. Now they have sort of centralised them so they have several doctors in one area with a couple of medics and everyone has to go away to the unit. I believe it began in Brisbane.
Soldier J: They are calling it the medical hub.
Soldier M: We have two RAPs. You've got one over one side of the base for your combat units.
Mr SLIPPER: What is an RAP?
Soldier M: A regimental aid post. This is where half the doctors and medical staff have gone. Then you have the hospital down the bottom with the other half.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What is the goss on why that happened? Is it thought to be a better way?
Soldier M: It was going to streamline it. You had probably a two- or three-month wait to see a doctor just to get a referral down at the hospital. They thought that, by splitting the base into two to split the medical system, they would alleviate everybody congregating in one area so everybody could get treatment, but it really has not sped the process up. It is still a three- to four-week wait to see a doctor when you have a medical problem.
Dr JENSEN: Soldier N, you reported about an IED explosion that you went through where you had 100 puncture wounds. You then went back to Afghanistan about a year or two later?
Soldier N: I was struck about July-August. I did not leave country; I stayed in Tarin Kot and Kandahar. I came back to Tarin Kot and pushed back out to patrol base probably about four weeks after the first incident happened.
Dr JENSEN: In retrospect would you say that that was the correct thing to do, or do you think that you should have been sent back to Australia to make a more full recovery?
Soldier N: I had no dramas. I wanted to go back out to patrol base. In reality they were superficial wounds that were not really anything serious. It was nothing that could stop me doing my job.
Dr JENSEN: Did you suffer any PTSD at all?
Soldier N: I do not think so. I think everybody gets something to some sort of degree, but it was nothing significant for me or my partner to raise alarms about or anything along those lines.
Dr JENSEN: Okay. Thanks.
Senator FAWCETT: Soldier L, you spoke about the body armour and said that it was incorrectly fitted. You had front plates in the back et cetera, and that gave you an odd seating position. Was that something that was issued to you in that configuration, or was that something that you configured?
Soldier L: No, that is what we are issued. I am pretty sure the majority of MTF1 and possibly even MRTF2 had that problem. I was told that there were no back plates. Back plates are meant to curve in whereas your front plate curves out. I was a LAV driver in Afghanistan—like ASLAVs—and the driver's seat is basically two pieces of foam at a 90-degree angle with a plywood board behind that and a metal frame. So you take that 90-degree angle and add a curved plate in the back. These plates are about an inch thick because they have a lot of foam padding. You would spend most days 12 hours in the seat, driving and leaning forward the whole time. There is not much room in any sort of armoured vehicle, so you cannot really get comfortable, move around or stretch out. All my muscles and everything tightened up, so when I got home I was having back spasms.
Senator FAWCETT: You are saying that the body armour has improved. Has that particular configuration issue been resolved?
Soldier L: As far as I am aware. I have not worn the new body armour; but, from what I can see from the outside, it looks like it has gone a long way.
Soldier J: My rotation was the first one to wear it, and there were no complaints. Everyone loved it.
Soldier L: It would have been about July-August, while I was over there, that they brought in eagle marine, which is the American body armour system, so basically a lot of the engineers and inventory guys started wearing that to reduce the loads of them stomping around through the green zone and everything. We were then issued with older plates from the previous body armour system which were actually better and had correct-fitting plates for back and front. They were also a lot thinner, so there was not as much angle placed on my back.
Senator FAWCETT: Do you feel that you had adequate channels to report those kinds of issues—that it was uncomfortable, making it hard, causing—
Soldier L: I think complaints over there would have been pushed away because there was nothing they could do. There were no plates as far as I was aware.
Senator FAWCETT: Were you encouraged to provide feedback about the fit or functionality of equipment?
Soldier L: No.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: When did you enlist?
Soldier L: 2008.
Soldier N: It is a bit hard to report that your body armour does not fit properly when the commander of the task force gets issued exactly the same body armour. You can tell your CO, and your CO has exactly the same body armour. He tells his boss; he tells his boss. You've all got the same body armour. That is an issue that needs to be sorted out at DMO with whoever makes the body armour before it is even released. I think it has with the TBAS coming online
Senator FAWCETT: One of the problems is that, when the system hears anecdotal evidence that stuff is not fitting, they look for the written reports. If people are not reporting those problems then the people sitting in the splendid isolation of Canberra tend to go, 'Everything's fine.' So I am keen to understand if there are systems that you could use and whether you are encouraged to use them.
Soldier P: My understanding is that it did eventually get heard. There was a lot of kicking and screaming that did happen, and we were lucky enough to have a CO for our trip in 2010 who was quite passionate about our welfare and our ability to operate on the ground. I think his next posting was at Diggerworks, where these new low-carriage systems were implemented.
Soldier K: Sorry; can you ask your question again?
Senator FAWCETT: I was just wanting to make sure that there were systems so that, if you wanted to report an issue with equipment, you knew how to do that—there was a system that existed, you knew how to do it and you were encouraged to do it.
Soldier K: I do not know about the major bases, but we spent four months on one of the FOBs and, again, like it was said, everybody had the same issue, the same problem. Everybody made the same complaints, at all levels. I think it just took a rotation or two for it to be enforced and anything to change.
Senator FAWCETT: Did you have that same equipment during your work-up period here in Australia? Did you go to Cultana and use the same equipment?
Soldier L: Yes, we did, but we had training plates in at that time. The training plates are basically a steel plate which fit. So then when we got in country, or to Al Minhad, we were issued with our correct body armour plates.
Senator FAWCETT: Is that just because they did not have enough plates to give you the real thing?
Soldier L: As far as I am aware. I do not think anyone—
Soldier J: It is to get used to the weight. They give you the body armour to wear it in, and they give you the training plates so you know what sort of weight you are going to have when you get over there, because the proper plates are over there to be used.
Senator FAWCETT: What this is highlighting, though, is that, by using a training aid as opposed to the real piece of equipment, quite a critical interface between the piece of equipment and the soldier—
Soldier J: So it got picked up before it went over.
Senator FAWCETT: Yes. If you had had the real thing, you probably would have picked it up.
Soldier M: I think it would have made a big difference if we had had the real thing here instead of training plates and equipment-type thing, because I noticed a big difference when I went over on my rotation, and so did a lot of other people as well. It is the same as with the lead-up as well. We did the old MRE, or MRA or whatever they call them nowadays. But it is nothing like what you are going to experience over there with what your actual roles are going to be and what you are going to come in contact with, the equipment you are going to use. It is all, 'You've got this, you've got this and you've got this, but you don't have this,' so it is just a scenario plucked out of the air and you have got to make it work here in Australia. Then you go over there, and it is completely different.
Senator FAWCETT: Even though the scenario is obviously going to be a bit different—Cultana is not Afghanistan—if you had had the exact equipment that you were going to use over there, would that have improved the outcomes?
Soldier M: I think it might have made a bit of difference there, yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: In Australia, the back plate was the wrong fitting, I guess.
Soldier L: Even then, if they do not have it in the system, really it is not going to make a difference.
Mr SLIPPER: It seems ridiculous to be training in something that is not actually what you are going to wear—a nonsense. How much does this body armour weigh?
Soldier J: Twenty-five kilos—that is with your ammo, a bottle of water and some food and all the stuff you need. I weighed it and it was 25 kilos.
Senator FAWCETT: One of you guys have been there, haven't you?
Soldier J: Yes, sir. When we led up for operations in 2010, we wore an older generation body armour system, and it was not dedicated to us. Purely because of numbers and supply, we had to share it around. So we did not get to wear it in. It was not until late in the lead-up training that we actually got the equipment that we were going to use. Again, we were issued training plates for that, and then it did change a number of times overseas after some complaints in the reporting system. But, having redeployed a second time, we were issued the equipment that we were going to be using overseas. But then again training plates come into play in the lead-up to that.
Mr SLIPPER: Soldier M mentioned that everyone gets the same plates when you are there. Is there a culture in the Army of, if X number of hundreds of you are there, all with the same equipment, when everyone else is wearing exactly the same as you are, that tends to inhibit you from putting a complaint in, because it might seem as though you are just someone who is disgruntled?
Soldier N: No, sir. The process that the Army uses for putting in complaints about equipment is called the RODUM process. That is an online document now, and it can get submitted either through your chain of command or he can submit it himself. It is almost encouraged by commanders: if your boots do not work, write something about it. That is the system we use to try to get it changed. And I think now that this tiered body armour system has come along it has made massive improvements compared with when we were using ECBA. It has almost stamped out the issue of body armour. Body armour is always going to be heavy. Ammunition is always going to weigh heaps. But the tiered body armour system is definitely a step in the right direction.
Mr SLIPPER: That was a healthy innovation, to be able to not necessarily lodge a complaint but lodge a comment.
Soldier N: That system has been around for quite some time—probably over 10 years now, I believe.
Senator FAWCETT: Perhaps I can just change the direction of questioning a bit. How many of you have spouses, or families? I see four of you have raised your hands. How has the support to your families been in terms of access to information that they might be seeking, as well as the things you get through your chain of command?
Soldier M: My partner has not received anything at all.
Senator FAWCETT: Has she wanted anything?
Soldier M: She has asked. We have a welfare officer at unit, so she knows to call that person. But other than that, there are no random, out-of-the blue inquiries about how she is coping or whatever. She is stuck at home with four kids while I am here at work. It was not until yesterday, when I had a meeting with another case manager, who actually wanted to come around to my house and do an assessment of how we are coping with my condition. I had my operation in May last year. Eight months or nine months later, I am potentially three months away from being medically discharged and now someone wants to do something when it is too late. It has a huge impact on the families; it really does. I am old school; I joined in 1986. But from what I can see, if it is not an injury whereby you are missing a limb, then a lot of people do not want to touch it.
Senator FAWCETT: So, what sort of support would make a difference? Obviously the follow-up phone call and those types of things do, but what else would support families better?
Soldier M: Perhaps if people would come around and talk to them that would help. I do not suffer from PTSD, but there are a few guys I know who do, and I have spoken to them. My next-door neighbour is a classic example. He has been home since his deployment, over 12 months. He is not able to work because of his PTSD. No-one even contacts them at all, even to ask: 'Listen, is there something we can do? Is there something we can help you with at home, to make life easier?'
Soldier J: There is a company called VVCS—Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service—which they offer. I am not trying to say that they should force it upon them, but perhaps they could have someone drop in. It is not just a matter of talking to someone; you can also tell from the state of the house how they are going—is their house messy? Then you can find out if the person is struggling. So it helps just to have someone stop in and say hi and see how things are going.
Soldier K: When my back got quite bad, just before I had my surgery, there were times when my partner had to drive me in to work because I found it difficult to drive, even just an automatic. She was doing my shoes up and everything, and I know that the stress of even those little bits and pieces were getting to her. I have had my surgery and I am much better now, but I know the stress was getting to her then. We went and saw VVCS for counselling and that sort of thing, and they helped. They sent out a couple of pamphlets here and there, but I would not say there was much there. For me, everything was okay, and my partner was coping, but I think if someone had popped around or had given her a call, whether at the unit or through VVCS or something like that, that might have given her the urge to say, 'Okay, yes, I need some help here, I need some help there.' We had just moved into a house, and I could not do the lawns or anything at that stage, and all of a sudden she was picking up the workload. She has a job at three o'clock in the morning, she is trying to go to uni, and she was trying to do all this extra housework that I could not do. It just made it extremely difficult.
Mr SLIPPER: Where did you have the operation?
Soldier K: I had it here in Queensland—
Mr SLIPPER: A private hospital?
Soldier K: Yes; it was a private hospital over Chermside way.
Senator FAWCETT: Have you got any comments about family support that you would like to make?
Soldier L: I have never needed it too much, I guess. I have never wanted it. I do know of other people. One of my mates who was in Afghanistan at the same time as me rolled his ankle on a dismounted patrol. He has had multiple operations since returning, and he has had to have his parents fly down from Cairns to look after him after surgery. Obviously, they have had to foot the bill for flights and everything to come down here.
I am originally from New South Wales. If I was to have an operation I would be here and they would have to come up, or my partner would have to look after me, when she has work and other things. So, even in situations like that it would be good to have an offer. Some people do not want that but it would be good to have the offer of someone to come and do the basic little things to help you out around the house and stuff.
Soldier M: It seems to me that the old days are gone where the units would go around and do stuff for you. I do not know if it is a generation change or a culture change or what, but the only people who have offered help to me and my family is Veterans' Affairs, because they have said yes to my claim.
CHAIR: I wanted to ask you about that, because of your comment about no-one coming to see you about your wellbeing. How has the process with DVA been for you?
Soldier M: It is still early days. I only got the letter in February saying that they admitted full liability. It has kind of stopped at this stage, because they are waiting for my discharge date. Obviously, because of the move to Canberra that has held a lot of stuff up. We are just waiting for the signature down there, to see what is going on.
They are doing one needs assessment per month with me at the moment. Obviously, because I have a partner they say, 'Yes, she's capable of cleaning the house. Yes, she's capable of mowing the yard.' Even though they asked, 'Do you want someone to come around to do these things,' because you have got someone capable at home, regardless of your circumstances they go, 'Hang on, there's an adult there; they can still do those chores.' As I said, in my case I have four children—from seven down to one—sitting at home. So, I have a busy household. It is nice to get offered this stuff from DVA, but then they look at the picture and go, 'Hang on, there's still an adult there, regardless of the children.'
CHAIR: So they have been in contact with you on a monthly basis, basically.
Soldier M: They are constantly in contact with me to do with my claim, getting ready for discharge and appointments and stuff like that, but when it comes down to it they say, 'We'll contact you to see if you need equipment to do certain things with your disability,' which they have already acknowledged is going to get worse. They say, 'No, Defence is paying for everything. Until you're out of the Defence Force we'll just keep sending you this paperwork. You just keep signing it and sending it back. Once you're out we'll come and visit you once a month or once a fortnight, depending on where you are going to go. We'll do an assessment, but while you've got an adult with you we can't give you these services.'
Mr SLIPPER: I heard that you have got to wait in country for up to two to four weeks to actually see a doctor. Things can obviously deteriorate until you see a doctor and get onto the right treatment. Is that because we simply do not have enough doctors in country? I am not someone who has been in the military so I am not quite sure how things operate in Afghanistan but presumably you must have some units that are not in the main camp all the time—they are some distance away. I presume you would only go to the main camp every so often. If that is the case, if you were in one of those external groups, you would have even less access to medical advice when needed. So you might not get back there for a week or so and then, on top of that, you have your two-to-four-week wait.
Soldier J: As an example, I was there for six months, and during that whole time I only went back to TK twice, and once was overnight. So those were the only times I went back to the main base.
Mr SLIPPER: So if you had a medical problem during that six months when you were not in the base, you would presumably have a medic of some sort with you.
Soldier J: Yes, you can see the medic. There are people seeing the doctor. We are there for only a short period of time—it could be six hours or 12 hours—and you still have to wait. Engineers are spread thin already, so we just have to mount up and go anyway, even if you want to wait.
Mr SLIPPER: That means your situation could deteriorate and, when you come back here, it could be a much larger problem than it would have been had you received timely medical advice.
CHAIR: Soldier J, in your particular case, that was the circumstance, wasn't it?
Soldier J: Yes.
CHAIR: Your condition deteriorated. Could you go through how that occurred?
Soldier J: About four weeks into the trip, I was on patrol. I had all my gear on—that is 50 kilos—and I jumped over an aqueduct, which is a little irrigation thing, and I landed a bit incorrectly and twinged my back. I thought it was just a bit muscular. Every time I went out on patrol, it was always there, but it never got any worse. Then I was on a patrol later in my trip—about three or four weeks before the end of my trip—and I was on a wall. I turned around, hopped off and landed a bit incorrectly. All that weight went forward and, after that, there was a horrendous amount of pain. I could not even wear body armour—the weight on my shoulders was horrible.
Luckily, at the time there was a visiting physiotherapist at the patrol base. They come out once a month for about two nights. She checked me out and said it is nothing muscular. They sent me back to TK two or three days after that to see the doctor. They had an X-ray machine but it was not very good. It was just a little box tacked to a trolley. I spoke to my GP, but then I had to see an American at TK—the doctor on-base—and then I saw an American orthopaedic surgeon who confirmed the injury, and I saw an American chiropractor as well, who said the same thing. Because of all of that they decided to send me home, because I could not wear body armour, and, in Afghanistan, if you cannot wear body armour there is no use in being there. It took them three days to get me a flight home—to Al Minhad and back home three days after that.
Mr SLIPPER: Obviously the Americans are cooperative, sharing their medical expertise?
Soldier J: Yes, they were really good. They were really helpful.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: When you first spoke to us, were you making some comment about your body weight compared to the weight of the pack?
Soldier J: Yes. They say you should not carry more than one-third of your body weight, but, over there, good luck! It is ridiculous. I was searching some snipers into an overwatch watch position and we were climbing mountains like this, and we were carrying 100-kilo packs on our back. One of the guys who was there hurt his knee. He stayed up there for the two days, came down carrying the same weight and ended up getting that sorted out when he got back.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: In your training, before you go overseas, what are you—
Soldier J: You train with the same weight—50 kilos. We train in our body armour. They make dummy electronic countermeasures out of wood, which are about the same weight as real ones, and you carry that around as well.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you saying 50 kilos is okay for you?
Soldier J: No way. That is why my back is stuffed.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: In retrospect, should someone have said to you, 'Sorry, mate, you're not going; you're staying home'?
Soldier J: Then they would have to tell the entire Army, 'No, you can't go,' because everyone is carrying more than one-third of their body weight. When you put on your body armour, that is 25 kilos. I weigh 95 kilos. Not many people weigh more than 95 kilos. So, if you weigh 75 kilos, that is almost one-third of your body weight already.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What is the solution, apart from the quad bikes? Can you go into an operation with less than 100 kilos on your back?
Soldier J: No. You need to carry water because it is so hot over there, and even in winter you are carrying five to six litres of water, and you have to carry four to eight mags, depending on your position. The ammo counts up; your weapons weigh six kilos; you have your UCM, which is 15 kilos, and you have to carry a spare battery for that, which is another three kilos. I have a mine lab, which is four kilos. It adds up quickly, even with little things.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What is the solution?
Soldier J: Make lighter stuff! It is hard to justify saying, 'Take less ammo' or something; it is stuff that you do need to carry. The electronic equipment over there, you do need to carry. It is hard to say what to carry and what not to carry, but you do need that stuff.
Mr SLIPPER: Do all these things strike at morale?
Soldier J: Yes. At the end of the day, you are knackered; you are absolutely buggered. As an engineer, you are on patrol every day—they send over a section of grunts, so we go on patrol every day while the grunts get a day's break. That is how it worked over there—they would send out half a section each day, whereas we went out every day.
Soldier K: Because we might only have four or five people on a patrol base, and we can't work with any less than four people. We didn't train any less, and we could not get any lower than that.
Mr SLIPPER: What do you actually do?
Soldier J: We are combat engineers; we are the IED hunters. So we are out the front with the mine labs, looking for the bombs on the road. We are spread so thin; we only had 12 of us at our patrol base.
Dr JENSEN: With something like that, where you are looking for IEDs on a road, surely an idea would be to trail something that has wheels and is carrying the majority of the weight.
Soldier J: When you are doing road searching, you have vehicles behind you; but when you are on a foot patrol, and going through the fields and the towns et cetera, you cannot do it—because of the terrain. It is set up in fields, and there are aqueducts and irrigation everywhere, rivers to cross. Sometimes you are in knee-deep mud.
Soldier P: Mules have been used previously, but it is quite frowned upon.
Dr JENSEN: Why is that?
Soldier P: Basically, having the animal controlling it—no-one is really qualified to look after that aspect of it.
Soldier N: Have you ever tried to use a donkey? They are the not the most obedient things in the world! In 2007 I was in Afghanistan and we gave it a try. It took us more time to get stuff onto the donkey and move it around—just because he is a donkey: he doesn't want to play the game. There are a couple of famous photos of Special Forces towing donkeys. We were speaking to them; they had exactly the same drama trying to control the animals.
Dr JENSEN: Maybe that is something that we need to have a look at again. Back in the distant past, that would have been standard operational procedure.
Soldier N: It is not so much (inaudible). The new technology with the ECMs is actually quite small—it will send out a small bubble. But when you are adding a body armour, weapon and the whole lot to the personnel, that is the bare minimum standard that we expect somebody to be stepping out of the patrol base with. So as soon as they are out they are looking at about 20 kilos worth of kit—and that is the latest, greatest stuff; the best stuff on the market. But if you are wearing that for an extended period of time, some soldiers backs give away and things like that, with the extra 20 kilos pressed against the spine.
Soldier K: With the ECM, the electronic countermeasures, the smaller stuff is not so bad for the individual soldier, but I know that, for engineers, when we are targeting IEDs and C-IEDS and that sort of stuff, we need the bigger stuff because it is more powerful and targeted. Different types of ECMs target different countermeasures.
Soldier J: And the smaller (inaudible) interferes with our mine labs. So instead of hearing your metal you hear a 'whee, whee, whee' from the interference all the time. So sometimes it is not feasible to use the smaller stuff, as well.
CHAIR: Soldier K, you have had that surgery, which I understand was a disc replacement—is that correct?
Soldier K: Yes.
CHAIR: How has that worked?
Soldier K: Quite well. I am not back to running at the moment, or anything like that, but compared with other surgeries I have heard about—like seizing the spine and that sort of stuff—I have had much better outcomes. I have disc degeneration above that as well. I know other people who have had disc degeneration with other surgeries; it has hindered them later on or not long after. I have not had any problems with the discs above, and I don't get anything like the constant sciatic pain I used to get down the right side of my body and swelling, and that sort of stuff. It is more about strength now, because obviously it has been so long that I have lost a lot of strength.
Mr SLIPPER: Are you transitioning out of the Army?
Soldier K: I am trying not to, but it has been so long for me. And because I was having surgery, a lot of medical stuff got pushed aside, like evaluations. I don't want to leave.
Mr SLIPPER: How long have you been in the Army?
Soldier K: I have been in almost seven years now.
Mr SLIPPER: Are you coming to work every day now and doing something else?
Soldier K: Yes, I am part of the soldier recovery centre, so pretty much I come in and focus on rehabilitation of my injuries.
Mr SLIPPER: Do you assist others as well?
Soldier K: I guess we sort of assist each other in what we do, but it is more just individually focused. You still try and keep that team environment I guess here, but it is just about self-education and how to focus on getting yourself better and that sort of stuff, if you can get better to be in the Army.
CHAIR: How have you felt about your experiences with the SRC?
Soldier J: Really, really good, because you are spending your time with people who have the same injuries. They can relate to you. If you are at your unit and you are injured, you have got restrictions; you have got your mates out there doing things and you cannot help. Then you get people calling you a malingerer and all that sort of stuff. Words get thrown around. But being in here everyone is at the same level.
CHAIR: I just want to question you on that point, about the stigma. Has that been reasonably forthcoming from people from your units? Do you see it as whispers behind closed doors?
Soldier J: Whispers behind closed doors.
Soldier K: It is not just that. I know when you are at the unit, in the morning you will sit in a cage and you just start getting almost depressed every day because you cannot do the work that your mates are doing. So you feel like that, even if people are not whispering it, because you can see them doing the work and you cannot do it. Then that hinders your progress physically doing your own PT and that sort of stuff. You just end up sitting there day in, day out and staring at a blank wall. Whereas, in this situation here, we are doing up to two PT sessions a day. One of them might be swimming and then another one is more injury-specific. Then they will do other stuff which will challenge you mentally, whether it is doing literature studies with the education officers—or we did a reptile course last year; there are things like that. Even though you cannot do your job, they are showing that you still can do stuff and it keeps you focused. Even if you do not like what you are doing at the moment, it just keeps you focused and motivated to keep going.
CHAIR: Do you think the stigma relates to a lack of their knowledge about what the SRC is about?
Soldier L: Yes, Sir.
Soldier M: Not only that but people's injuries and conditions. It comes back to what I said earlier, Sir. Unless you are missing a limb—something which they can physically see—you are in the back corner: 'No, you're a malingerer; we don't want anything to do with you.' A classic case was my unit. It was, 'Okay, you're coming off convalescence leave; you can come and do your job.' Yes, I do admin now, but I have got two flights of stairs to walk. They have turned it around and said, 'Because you have got two flights of stairs, we can't employ you.'
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Who makes the decision to have you guys here?
Soldier M: It is normally your CO through your MO, and then it is handed through to brigade and then brigade will look at it, and then they will make the determination whether you are a good candidate or not to come here or to rehabilitation down at the hospital—that type of thing.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you ask?
Soldier M: You can ask your chain of command, yes. Once again, it is all a paper trail now. If your CO or XO recommends, 'We can't use you. You'd probably be a good candidate for rehabilitation or the SRC,' they fill out a nomination form. You wait another couple of weeks to see your doctor. He or she will endorse it or not endorse it. It then goes to brigade. They vet it to make sure: yes, that is a good candidate for this program, because these type of people are what we want for this program. Then you will get the approval or nonapproval through your chain of command at unit.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: For all six of you, is there a better way of doing that?
Soldier M: We are all from different units, different trades, backgrounds, different types of injuries. I reckon if my people at my unit intervened a lot earlier it would have been a lot better. It is more education.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: How do they know that they should intervene? Did you go and see someone and say, 'I'm not coping with these—
Soldier M: I am in a position, in my unit and my role, where I have direct access to the CO and the XO. The majority of my unit was away with FCU-7 in Afghanistan last year. I returned. I spoke to my XO; I told her what was going on with my injuries and showed her my pages and pages of restrictions from what was happening with my operation and condition, and she just turned round and said, 'There's nothing we can do for you.' I said, 'Well, could I go to the soldier recovery centre and see if that is going to help me with my mobility?' and she sat down, made a few phone calls, did a bit of reading up on it, and said: 'We'll give it a go. All we can do is to try to give it a go.'
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Does that suggest that in the upper echelon there is not a real understanding of what this centre does?
Soldier M: No. A lot of them still think it is only a six-week program. But they actually do the programs here in a six-week block. So you will be working, as Soldier K said. We have a program that we stick to every day—a routine, I suppose you would call it. That goes for six weeks. The seventh week is a quiet week so that you can catch up on admin, have interviews to see how you are coping, what the PTIs think of how you are progressing, and this, that and the other, and integrate units and case managers and stuff like that. Then they make a determination: 'Okay, you can go back to your unit but you have just got to keep doing this program and hopefully you will come off your restrictions,' or, 'You have got to stay there until you are discharged because there is nothing more anybody else can do for you.' It is just so that you have a routine. But people need to be educated at unit level. A lot of them do think it is just a rehabilitation centre or just a place to put a soldier for anywhere from a week to six weeks at a time. But they have to look at the bigger picture as well. As you have heard, some of us are waiting to be discharged because of what has happened to us, and it is a case of, 'Right; you are at the soldier recovery centre.' Yes, we are at our routine here and the guys look after us really well and help us out with everything we do, but we still belong to our parent units as well.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Does anyone else have a thought on whether the system of getting here could be improved?
Soldier K: We have always had the same complaints: funding, not enough staff, and, even if we have got funding, just having access to that funding. We have a couple of rowing machines and a couple of bikes, but everything we have, sports equipment wise, has been donated. They were going to send more people here a month or two ago—there were going to be 50 people here. Now we have two PTIs but at the start of the year there was only one PTI who was running 12 of us.
Mr SLIPPER: A PTI?
Soldier K: A physical training instructor. If they want to get more soldiers here then they need to get the funding in, they need to get the staff in—whether that is people from units with PTIs running it or—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: So are you suggesting that there are a lot of people in the units that should be here but are not here because there are not enough resources?
Soldier J: Yes.
Soldier L: Yes.
Soldier K: Yes. They are just waiting and seeing if it is going to take off, but if they want to wait and see it is never going to happen. They are just going to have a few people here at a time. They just need the staff and the money.
Dr JENSEN: So is it your view that Defence is not really serious about this—that in effect this is window-dressing?
Soldier K: No, I think Defence is—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is a subjective kind of question.
CHAIR: Let the soldier answer.
Soldier K: I think Defence seems to be. The brigade commander here seems to be focused on this. I do not know where the issue is coming from about funding and staff, but it seems that the situation for here is: they want to get some corporals from units to come in, but the units do not have to send anyone; it is just up to them if they want to.
Mr SLIPPER: Could you explain that?
Soldier K: Sorry. They want to get corporals from the units to come in—the brigade commanders and the SRC—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What—just to see what happens?
Soldier K: No, to help run the program. They do not have to do that. They are asking the units to do that. But of course they do not have enough corporals as it is at the unit, so they are not going to send anybody here if they do not have to because they are having enough time running their own units.
Mr SLIPPER: Is this the only soldier recovery centre?
Soldier J: No, there's one in Townsville and one in Darwin.
CHAIR: Soldier P, I have some questions of you with regard to your redeployment. You initially injured yourself in 2010, with injuries to your L4 and L5 vertebrae, and were redeployed in 2012. Can you take us through the assessment process that was conducted for your redeployment?
Soldier P: I returned to Australia. I woke up and could barely move, so I knew something was wrong. I took myself to my unit health clinic, before it became a hub, and I saw one of the medics. He didn't want to start pushing anything or pursuing anything—I think he made the right decision—and thought it could be just muscular. He said: 'Here's some pain medication, something to sort it out. Just rest and then start trying to stretch it out.' He also gave me the discretion to make a better judgement if I thought it was something more serious or if it wasn't recovering quickly enough. From there I went to see a doctor. He was actually on leave so I had to go to another unit and see their doctor. They put me on restrictions and on tighter leave and recommended me for physio treatment. The physio treatment took some time to start taking effect and I thought they weren't as effective as they could have been. From there I started seeing a regular doctor, who got me onto a rehab program, before the soldier recovery centre, which was run at the hospital on base here. He also got me an MRI scan and to visit a neurosurgeon to get a report. He notated my progression from there and recommend me for a rehabilitation course external to the Army, which was done at the Wesley Hospital. I did two weeks, continued on and came back to work. I was fortunate enough to have a good chain of command and a good supervisor at work, who did have my welfare at heart and wanted to see me get better. Then, basically, I was progressing by myself with the lessons I learnt from the rehab people, from two different courses, within the service and private, to help myself get back to a better position. Basically, it was this brigade's rotation and it didn't have a lot of numbers. I was asked to redeploy. I said: 'I can do it, but I'm not 100 per cent.' But I was more than capable of doing the role I was deployed in.
CHAIR: What percentage of your wellbeing at that time would you rate yourself at?
Soldier P: It's hard to say. I would say I am the same at the moment. There are a lot of things I can no longer do. I'm currently getting out. I'm not getting medically discharged because that is a long process that I don't want to have to go through; I'm ready to continue with the rest of my life. I can no longer do this job as it is: I know that much. It was in that timeframe that once I got better I was either going to discharge, but the trip came up and they asked me to go back overseas. It was a less-intensive role; I wasn't going to be under the same load carriage I was on my first trip. It was suitable for me to do that. I was more than capable of doing that. I did come up with a few issues with it over there but I was able to self-manage and also to seek further specialist advice. I did continue and finish the trip. I don't think there was any detriment, but I don't think it was any help to my recovery. I think I have peaked at where I will get in my recovery.
CHAIR: Do you think you were compelled to do that redeployment?
Soldier P: Not from a work perspective but more or less from the perspective of the guys I was with. I did have the experience to help them out. For a lot of the people it was their first trip. There was also a qualification shortfall as well. I was more than happy to go along. I liked my first trip deploying on operations and was more than happy to go back and do it again.
CHAIR: Do you think there is a capacity for someone to mask there injuries or wellbeing to be redeployed?
Soldier P: I think so, and I think I would throw myself in that category as well.
CHAIR: Do you think it is appropriate to have that arrangement?
Soldier P: That depends. I felt that I was more than capable of deploying in the role that I did. I don't think I was putting anyone else's wellbeing or welfare in jeopardy—if anything, I was adding to it. Having been on that trip, I honestly think I did. There were a lot of inexperienced people deployed that needed help along the way—and I was fortunate enough to have that help on my first trip.
CHAIR: Are there any last comments you would like to make?
Soldier M: Could you bring back berets? We lost our berets a few years ago, and we want them back!
CHAIR: That is not part of the terms of reference, unfortunately. But it is on the transcript now.
Dr JENSEN: With regard to the Soldier Recovery Centre and the entire process of soldiers being injured in one way or another, what would you like to see happen, what changes would you like to see made?
Soldier J: At the moment we are having a bit of trouble because it takes so long to see a doctor and some of us have quite bad injuries. For instance, because of my cancer I have to see a specialist every three months—and there is my back. We are trying to get a doctor and a physio to regularly visit or be permanent here at the SRC. One thing we would like to see is for people with the greater injuries to have the greater access—that would be great. My back injury has kept me out of my job for almost 12 months now, so I have not been training or doing anything. If I ever get better enough to go back to the unit—and I do not think I will because I have got arthritis in my back—I will never be able to carry a load again. So I am sort of out of a job now. I have got to try and figure out whether I stay in the Army and find another job or stay in the Recovery Centre and be part of it full time. So the only thing I see wrong with the SRC is that, you if are away from your unit for so long with such a bad injury, you can fall behind.
Dr JENSEN: I am talking not just about the SRC but generally as well.
Soldier M: Try to get the medical times reduced. It is worse here than what it is to see a doctor outside. It is shocking. I have got a doctor's surgery around the corner from where I live, in one of the busy areas of the north side. I went and spoke to them the other day and asked how long the waiting period is to see a doctor. They said it was 24 hours. So, if I can see a doctor outside within 24 hours who has 3,000 patients on their books, why do I have to wait three or four weeks? And there is no continuity in the military system when it comes to medical staff, especially since they have done the split of the two medical centres. My doctor has gone over to the new one and I am no longer to see my treating doctor. I have to see someone else and start the whole process again. Even though your file is there, you have to start the whole process again.
Mr SLIPPER: It seems ridiculous.
Soldier M: It is. I have three months left in the Australian Army and I have to start the process again. My new case manager has just got me a doctor's appointment for 16 April. That appointment was made yesterday. That is the quickest they can get me in to see a treating MO, who will then say, 'We'll send you back to a specialist.'
Mr SLIPPER: Do you find that there is a reluctance on the part of serving personnel to consult doctors in the military on the basis of concerns as to whether there will be appropriate levels of confidentiality of your medical records? If you go to a private doctor, you know that he is not feeding stuff back into the military that might not be in your interest.
Soldier M: I will give you a classic example. I have seen a specialist at Chermside. I have since had surgery in which he went in to try and fix my left leg where the cartilage tear was. He rang my treating MO at the time and told him what the outcome was: double total hip replacement. Because it was verbal I cannot have the treatment, because it has to be in writing. We found that out yesterday, eight months afterwards. Now I cannot have the operation. Vet Affairs might pick it up once I am out of the Army. If I ring Soldier P and say I want a job done, he says no worries and, bang, he does it. It is not in writing but he still carries it out because he knows it is in our best interests. But if a doctor rings a doctor and says, 'This is what's got to be done,' I have gone in and we cannot do what we have got to do. It is a lot like Soldier K's back, for instance. They go in and say, 'We need to replace this disc. Can we get the approval to do it?' 'No worries, mate. Give it to us in writing.' You wait another six weeks to get the approval and then you have got to wait another six weeks. It is a three-month turnaround to have surgery to try and help someone who really needs surgery. It is silly. On civvy street, you can go and see a doctor and get a consultation done within 48 hours or 72 hours, then you just have to wait the waiting time for your hospital to fit you in, which would be a couple of weeks later. It is just ridiculous. There are so many people out there that are copping this; it is unreal.
Soldier J: Mine was that there was a lack of communication as well. Overseas, the doctors came to the conclusion that I had a compression fracture of my T5. When I came back, I had a CT scan and an X-ray showing that I did not have a compression fracture. There was no sign of one. But that information did not get back to my GP, so for six months I was trying to fix something that was not broken. I still had the pain, and the pain was getting worse. I saw my doctor, and that is when he sent me to the neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon came back with the results that I have got disc degeneration from T4 to T7, and now I am trying to work on that. I could have been doing exercises or things that could have been inhibiting my recovery. There was a lack of communication there for the six months it took for that to go through—and I was seeing the doctor many times before then as well.
Soldier P: One recommendation is an exercise physiologist—I sought their advice from the Wesley, and they were probably some of the best people I got to see that helped me through my injury—and, as a preventative measure, more PTIs.
CHAIR: Thank you again for your attendance here today. The committee very much appreciates your willingness in sharing your personal circumstances and views. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence to check whether there are any errors of grammar or fact that need alteration. I will ask someone to move the authorisation of publication. So moved; all those in favour—
Mr SLIPPER: You will have to remember whether you are soldier P, M, N or K.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: But Chair, just by way of private comment for the committee, but it is public: these guys are all anonymous, aren't they?
CHAIR: That is right.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: We probably should send the transcript to the person in the forces who oversees the medical treatment and get them to perhaps comment?
CHAIR: Providing their identity is not exposed. That is the reason why we conducted the hearing in this format here today.
Mr SLIPPER: I think it could be exposed if we do that, which is not the intention.
CHAIR: I would be reluctant to do that. Finally, I would like to thank the soldier recovery centre for hosting us here today.
Subcommittee adjourned at 11:22