Plea to combat stress mindset


U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sean Stevenson takes a knee while on a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011. Stevenson is a corpsman with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8. The U.S. Marines conduct frequent patrols through the area to show a presence and interact with the community to find ways to help the populace. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released)

THERE was no greater shame for World War II aircrew, particularly Bomber Command pilots, than to have their records stamped “LMF” – Lack of Moral Fibre.

In extreme cases this resulted in dismissal from the service and being sent to forced labour in UK coal mines while their fellows whom they were considered to have “betrayed” continued to fly operational missions with all the risks that entailed.

Surviving WWII aircrew still dismissively recall at reunions fellow crew who were “LMF-ed”.

Shell shock, combat stress, battle neurosis – call it what you will – is now described as post-traumatic stress disorder, although there are still those who should know better, including senior uniformed medical personnel who dismiss PTSD as at best an excuse, at worst a myth.

On Monday night, delivering the ACT 2015 Order of Australia Oration, CDF Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin told his Canberra audience that Australia must accept there is “no shame” for military, police and other first-response emergency personnel exposed to traumatic events to seek help for consequent mental health issues. Formerly a fighter pilot, and an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, Binskin warned his audience the perception of weakness and shame associated with asking for help was the greatest barrier preventing access to care and treatment for mental health issues.

Binskin claimed 47.9 per cent of the 60,228 personnel who had served in Vietnam had since suffered a mental health condition.  An arguable statistic since many hid their problems or chose more extreme solutions.  The real figures are undoubtedly greater because too many ADF veterans are reluctant to present for assessment, let alone treatment. The flow-on effect for their immediate families and close acquaintances is the hidden cost.

Physical wounds are always more obvious and can be treated and rehabilitated if not always restored.  Mental illness may not be obvious and often simply remains dormant until some trigger makes it manifest in multiple, often disastrous ways.  Drug and alcohol dependence, domestic violence and worse are among the consequences.

For some veterans, suicide seems the only option but always leaves an inevitably greater emotional burden for those left behind.  The ADF has become more aware of the consequences of service-related mental health issues and Binskin declared a responsibility to treat and hopefully rehabilitate in-service victims.

Yet there is still a long way to go. Perhaps there was no greater single act of courage for WWII aircrew, particularly pilots, than to declare they could not or would not fly another mission, for such an admission meant they would be immediately declared LMF and would have their personal documents stamped accordingly.

However, those who made the admission knew in their hearts, despite the shame it would inevitably entail, that their mental state had reached a point where the safety of their crews needed better leadership than they were then able to provide.

Australia’s military leadership responsibility must also extend to all those no longer serving to ensure no individual who has the courage to declare a problem may be considered lacking in any sense.