AS the nation’s focus turns to society’s most vulnerable during Homelessness Week, we speak to a Veteran who hit rock bottom and has come out the other side with RSLWA’s help. MAXINE BROWN reports
WHEN ordnance expert Corporal Jason Wornes was in service with the Australian Army, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance that he ever saw himself becoming a homeless Veteran.
Then again, being medically discharged with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after 14 years’ service with the regular Army and the Reserves wasn’t high on his life plan, either.
But this was the distressing position Jason found himself in, having made an all-or-nothing dash from the east coast to Perth to get treatment for the PTSD ripping his life apart.
The trauma-induced medical condition, which affects one in 12 servicemen and women, is a common catalyst for the disproportionate number of Veterans experiencing homelessness after service.
It is a grim scenario, with one in 20 of the Australians experiencing homelessness today believed to be Veterans. And with the alcohol and substance abuse that seem to follow PTSD as Veterans self-medicate their symptoms, it is clear that greater community understanding and support is needed.
It is one of many challenges for Veterans post-service that will be addressed at RSLWA’s game-changing Veteran Central facility, to be housed in the new ANZAC House that is currently under construction.
For Jason, a few years of watching his life spiral out of control with untreated PTSD – and subsequently learning that it would take months to get the in-patient hospital treatment he needed for his condition – led him to make the brave decision to fly across the country and check into the only mental healthcare bed available to him at the time, at Hollywood Clinic.
The turn Jason’s path took next led to a significant life shift that resulted in him declaring a lifetime of gratitude to RSLWA and its dedicated support staff – specially our State Welfare Officer Rosalind Howat. He says she saved his life.
It was she who found him early one morning in 2017 sitting on the front steps of RSLWA in the heart of the CBD. He was in tears. He was in emotional pain. All of his worldly possessions were in a bag by his side. The hospital bed he’d been promised was delayed. He was out of cash and could no longer afford the modest hotel he’d been staying in. And he was going to have to sleep rough in Kings Park that night.
Jason explains: “I step off the plane, into a cab and was expecting to be admitted straight into the clinic. All the possessions I own in the world are in a bag with me and then they tell me they can’t put me in the clinic because they had an emergency suicide admission.
‘’That’s ok, that’s fine, so I was basically in a hotel room for a week-and-a-half and each day going to the clinic, until they had a bed available and scooted me in. And part of that was organising to get in and see Rosalind, to get accommodation organised and that.
“It was breathtaking the level of support I got from RSLWA. As I said, Rosalind made sure I had toiletries, she was concerned about my wellbeing, which was amazing.
“She (RSLWA) made sure I was mentally, you know, that I wasn’t going to harm myself , they made sure I had a food voucher , they made sure that I had toiletries …. You know, there wasn’t actually enough that they could do for me, if you understand what I mean. It was such a reverse side of the coin to what I’d experienced at home.’’
‘’I was crying all the way here from the clinic because it was my last day before I was going to be forced to sleep in Kings Park.
‘’Within a very short timeframe Rosalind had got me accommodation and helped me with the bond. I couldn’t have done this without her.’’
Today, Jason is in a good place.
He’s living in a nurturing Perth community with supportive, empathetic neighbours, is continuing with medical treatment to manage his condition and says he’s the closest he’s ever been to ‘’being me’’ than he has in years.
His little four-legged mate Loki means the world to him and has naturally fallen into the role of an untrained assistance dog.
But what really gets Jason excited are the plans to house all the medical and support services for Veterans under one roof from next year.
He applauded RSLWA for recognising the confusion that Veterans faced when trying to navigate the processes to getting assistance from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, medical specialists and ex-service organisations
Jason is convinced that Veteran Central at RSLWA’s ANZAC House will save lives when it opens next year.
*To support RSLWA’s Help Our Heroes campaign, which supports our brave Veterans in their hour of need, please click here