Wilderness therapy for women soldiers
Electronic Media Monitoring Service
10-10-2014 11:02 PM
10-10-2014 11:02 PM
10-10-2014 11:52 PM
STEVE CANNANE, PRESENTER: The lasting trauma of war means thousands of Australian soldiers continue to suffer emotionally back on home soil.
For the past six years an organisation run by Vietnam vets called Trojan's Trek has offered wilderness therapy to Australian soldiers struggling with the aftermath of their service in overseas conflicts.
Now for the first time, the program has been extended to include women soldiers, with a pilot program having recently taken place in tandem with a men's trek in the Flinders Ranges.
Lateline's Ginny Stein was invited along with cameraman Brant Cumming who filmed this report.
GINNY STEIN, REPORTER: Molloloo station in the Flinders Ranges is off the grid. There are no mobile phones here and no Internet.
This is a no distraction environment. Isolation is part of the cure.
MOOSE DUNLOP, COLONEL, (RETIRED): It's true you can become very isolated. As you say you 'you think you're a freak'. You think you're the only one suffering.
GINNY STEIN: Colonel Moose Dunlop is a Vietnam veteran. He struggled when he came home, but took 30 years to get help.
MOOSE DUNLOP: This is something that we know is worthwhile work. The results justify the efforts we've put into it.
GINNY STEIN: Colonel Dunlop and his team have worked for years to help other servicemen from more recent conflicts cope with that same journey but this year's Trojan's Trek is different. Women have been invited.
Kaz spent almost two decades on the front line providing medical care from conflicts to disaster zones both at home and abroad. She fought to come on this trek.
KAZ, RETIRED ARMY MEDIC: I want to go! Ha ha! I want to go on this, I want to go on this journey of, you know, rediscovering who I am.
GINNY STEIN: Many of the women here served in East Timor. But when that call came to head overseas, not all got to go. What triggers stress in the military workplace is different for each person.
DANIELLE, SOLDIER: I don't want to continue to feel like I'm hiding it from everybody. I did my back only weeks before everyone left Timor.
GINNY STEIN: Danielle was left behind when her company and partner moved out to East Timor. She was there when they came back, and watched as some fell apart. She says five of her army colleagues committed suicide as did the father of her child.
DANIELLE: Even my own family doesn't see why I have issues. Why I have beaten this demon and didn't go anywhere or do anything.
GINNY STEIN: Major Connie Jongeneel, a veteran of missions to Pakistan, Afghanistan, East Timor and Bougainville, is a serving member of the army nursing corps.
CONNIE JONGENEEL, MAJOR: A female veteran is an unknown quantity. You know we know all about the males, you know, traditionally we've looked at World War I, World War II, we talked about men being in service.
GINNY STEIN: She's one of Trojan's Trek facilitators. She says this pilot program for women has shown they open up more quickly and easily than men.
FEMALE SOLDIER: You served me, and supporting me - you should hold on to that.
ANNA, ARMY COOK: Can I just say that it's stuff like this that makes or breaks.
CONNIE JONGENEEL: Everyone's thought that women are great, women are stoic, they're strong, they can do everything. But women, I think, now are really sort of saying, it's not okay, I need help.
GINNY STEIN: Anna arrived with her company in Suai, East Timor in 1999. Only days after Indonesian forces and militia withdraw, leaving a trail of death and destruction behind them.
ANNA: Suai was horrific and probably why I'm fairly passionate to the cause of sticking up for the underdog. And going in to assist the weak and vulnerable, basically.
I saw and experienced, taste, touch, feel, the whole thing of some horrific shit, yeah.
GINNY STEIN: An army cook, she visited the Suai cathedral, the scene of one of the worst crimes committed in East Timor. It was there that pro-Indonesian militia slaughtered more than 200 people in the days after the independence ballot was declared.
ANNA: When I went and had a look at the church there was definite gunshots as in remnants of automatic fire. Congealed blood that you could see coming down from the rafters like in the top storey of the church.
Where the nuns and the priests lived, there was parts of their bodies still there.
GINNY STEIN: Kaz left the army when she started to fall apart. But the problem was much greater. She ended up walking away from her profession. She had run out of empathy.
KAZ: And now it's a path of trying to find who I am again. Before you know I had my rank and I had my... I had my corps, I had the army and I had a meaning. Um ... now I'm trying to find out who I am again.
GINNY STEIN: For Moose Dunlop, the responses from women have both been surprising and expected.
MOOSE DUNLOP: I think the issues fundamentally the same in that the outcomes, the illness is the same for them as it is for the males.
I do think the recognition of it amongst women is much more difficult to justify. This is what they tell me. Than it is for males.
GINNY STEIN: There are plans to expand Trojan's Trek into Queensland next year.
With more than 30,000 servicemen and women having served in Afghanistan in recent years and Australia committing once more to Iraq, the need for help is only certain to grow.
Ginny Stein, Lateline.