Mackay-based Vietnam veteran Les Palmer discussed the health issues service people return from combat with.
Mackay-based Vietnam veteran Les Palmer discussed the health issues service people return from combat with.

Suicide rates skyrocket among Australian veterans

AN EXPLODING landmine in Vietnam caused more than short-term damage for Les Palmer. The health problems linger to this day.

"Put it this way," Mr Palmer said, "when you take an x-ray of me there's a lot of foreign objects in my body.

"I've got scars all over my body that proves I've been through a very stressful situation."

The Mackay veteran was fortunate in some respects that he did not suffer from mental health problems upon his return from Vietnam.

His injuries in combat ensured he was looked after when he came home.

But even as time has passed, the problem continues to surface as his former comrades succumb to the lasting anguish of war.

"I've been to funerals where blokes have committed suicide," Mr Palmer said.

"That's the biggest problem these days, the amount of servicemen committing suicide - it's in the hundreds.

"You never get over what I went through, but the biggest problem in our day when we came back was 99 per cent of the Diggers came home on a midnight flight where the public couldn't say 'good job'.

"They were told to go into the community and behave."

What Mr Palmer does see is improved awareness within the community about how returning servicemen and women suffer.

Organisations such as the RSL have provided support for veterans, but more can always be done.

This week marks Veterans Health Week, and ex-military support organisation Mates4Mates is using the awareness initiative to extend its message: a simple conversation could save a life.

According to the support service, self-reported levels of high psychological distress among veterans is more than three times higher than the rest of the Australian community. Alarmingly, male veterans under 30 have a suicide rate 2.2 times higher than Australian men of the same age.

Mates4Mates chief executive officer Troy Watson said their psychologists had had more than 3665 hours of conversation with veterans and their family members to support them through recovery from complex mental health issues.

He urged people to reach out to veterans they knew - whether a neighbour, friend, family member or colleague.

"We know that some veterans feel isolated and are impacted by mental health issues, particularly after transition, yet many struggle to ask for the support they need," Mr Watson said.

"We need to do more to ensure that veterans do not have to battle their mental health alone.

"Without access to psychological support, and a community of like-minded people who understand what they've been through, many of these veterans would be in a far darker space."

If you are in need of ongoing support, phone Mates4Mates on 1300 462 837.



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