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Triumph and trauma of young veterans

Samuel Lee, Ben Pronk and David Prowles. Photo courtesy Ross Swanborough at Seven West Media.

From Josh Zimmerman, The Sunday Times

THE trauma — and the triumphs — of young veterans are being pushed to the fore this Anzac Day in an attempt to shift stubborn community perceptions about the men and women returning from contemporary conflicts in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.
While a small number sustain life-long physical and mental scars while protecting the nation’s interests in farflung parts of the globe, for far more the real hardship only begins once they get home.
Nearly one in three WA veterans are out of work — an unemployment rate five times higher than the State average — despite often possessing qualifications and skills honed in some of the harshest environments on the planet.
RSLWA president Peter Aspinall believes a misconception that all veterans have PTSD or other mental health issues was hurting their job prospects and called on business owners to give ex-service personnel a fair go.
“That kind of thinking is so far from the truth,” he said. “The vast majority of veterans when coming out of the defence force are perfectly fit and healthy and of course have extremely valuable skills and capabilities.”
Even in cases where veterans were receiving help for mental health conditions, Mr Aspinall said they still had plenty to offer. “Those few that do have issues they are dealing generally

have them under control and there is very little if any impact on their ability to do an incredible amount of work for an employer prepared to take them on.”
After four years commemorating the centenary of World War I, RSLWA’s theme for Anzac Day on Thursday is “Saluting Contemporary Veterans”.
Young veterans Sam Lee, Ben Pronk and David Powles are typical examples of ex-service personnel who have used their
military training and experience as a springboard into civilian life.
After a 24-year year career in the Australian Army, including combat deployments to East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Pronk left the military last year with a Master of Business
Administration and now runs a leadership and crisis management consultancy with a fellow veteran.
He said his time in the army had been positive and his transition to civilian life seamless, but worried that was not always the case.
“One of my major concerns is that there is a perception that everyone who has served in these contemporary engagements is damaged, PTSD, that sort of stuff,” he said.
“My experience and certainly the experience of a lot of my friends has been almost the opposite. These are really well-trained, well-rounded, experienced people who can go on to contribute in super meaningful ways in a whole variety of different fields.”
A 10-year navy veteran, Mr Powles admitted he struggled at first to replicate the sense of purpose he enjoyed during his time in the military and bounced from job to job for six years before settling into his current role repairing submarines in Henderson.
He has also experienced firsthand the hesitation by some recruiters to take on veterans.
“When I got out of the navy in 2005 the mining game was still massive,” he said. “I’d be talking to a possible employer and they would express concern at me being able to handle a two-week on, one-week off roster. I’m sitting there thinking I just came back from a six-month deployment and didn’t get to see my family at all that entire time. Two weeks I can do standing on my head.”
Recently Mr Powles has spent time at his daughter’s primary school as part of its Adopt A Veteran program and said he found most kids still associated Anzac Day with World War I and II.
“They believe a war veteran is the old gent down the road who looks after his rose garden,” he said.
“I think it’s important the Australianv public know we’ve got veterans coming back now who can still work and play football and get out and about. Sometimes we losing them
when they get back through selfharm and part of that is because they are not recognised as veterans.”
After serving 12 years in the Australian Army, Mr Lee now works with fellow veterans in his new role as defence co-ordinator and liaison officer with RSLWA.
He said civilians sometimes failed to appreciate that veterans were far from a homogeneous group.
“You have people from 18 right through to 100-plus in the veterans community and each of their needs, their wants and their expectations in life are slightly different,” he said.
“We need to recognise that there are identified needs for veterans that are getting out today, last week, a couple years ago and that the needs of those veterans may differ from
previous generations.”

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