WHEN ordnance expert Corporal Jason Wornes was in service with the Australian Army, he had no idea of how badly PTSD would derail his life.
Being medically discharged with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after 14 years’ service in the regular Army and Reserves was never in his life plan, nor were the suicide attempts, self-medicating and the brush with homelessness that was his rock-bottom.
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.
Now happily rebuilding his life with his companion dog Loki following a hand up by RSLWA, Jason was happy to answer these questions from a newspaper journalist recently to help raise awareness about the debilitating effects of PTSD.
Where did you serve and how long for?
Australian Army, 4yrs service RAAC Armoured Corps driver crew commander and assault troop.
B Sqn 3/4th Cavalry Regiment Townville 1987 – 1991
Army Reserve unit infantry in Townsville 1991 – 1993
Army Reserve 8/13th Victorian mounted rifles RAAC Albury NSW 1995 – 1996.
Regular Army RAAOC ordanance corp 2007- 2011 various units Kapooka Pilbara Regt.
What was your experience when you left the Army?
Because I was discharged with PTSD I felt alone, abandoned and isolated. The reason you feel like that is because you are with an organisation that is your family, then when you discharge there are three to six months where you have nobody, until DVA (Dept of Veteran Affairs) pick up your case. That gap right there is the most crucial time, because you’ve got no one, you can very readily slip through the gaps and it costs Veteran lives.
What were the major challenges you experienced?
The major challenges … PTSD is a snowball effect. It starts with the isolation.
But the biggest challenge for most of us, is the lack of public awareness. Veterans with PTSD are not going to hurt you. We’re not going to melt down and start harming the public.
My first full panic attack in a shopping centre, I was in sensory overload hunched over grabbing onto the shelf. People were just walking past.
We haven’t been educated on how to cope with our condition. Imagine, you can’t go to a shopping centre because of your condition, so you start shopping online. So then you find yourself isolated.
It’s a one-way ticket to misery … and the worse thing is you don’t know you’re in it.
I understand you came to Perth to get treatment for PTSD. Why did you have to move to Perth to receive treatment? How difficult was it to access?
I was let down by an eastern states ESO (ex-service organisation). Thankfully, the needs of Veterans come first in Perth and I was given access to the only crisis-care bed in the country.
How did you come to experience homelessness?
Please refer to original story on RSLWA’s website: RSLWA gives Veteran a hand up out of homelessness
I imagine being that situation with PTSD must have been awful, and something you never expected to have to experience. How did you feel at that point in your life?
You’re caught in a whirlpool of conflicting emotions and dark thoughts. Suicidal. You’re in a spiral, a downward spiral, and there is no way out.
After the suicide attempt (sleeping pills, I didn’t want to wake up) I went into survival mode and my military training kicked in, going on 7km a night pack marches with 20kg on my back. I did that every second day, which I eventually built up to 10km every second day. But that had an adverse effect because it fuelled the fire until I had a meltdown. Leading me to Perth, a make-or-break move, it was my last option because there were no crisis care beds available anywhere else in the country.
What do you think should be done to further support Veterans experiencing homelessness, since we know it is so common?
Public awareness and prevention (mainly between that gap between leaving service and DVA assistance),
However, RSLWA’s Veteran Central will save a lot of lives from next year. It will also help families of Veterans get the help they need too. I’m so excited to see them do this and it needs to be rolled out across the country as a priority.
Anything else you want to add?
The RSLWA and its State Welfare Officer Rosalind Howat helped save my life. I am forever in RSLWA’s debt.
- Follow the progress of ANZAC House Veteran Central on its dedicated Facebook page, where you can learn more about how this one-stop shop for Veterans will save lives.