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Defence and Veteran Legal Services Newsletter—Issue 5 November 2022

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A message from our Director

At the end of October, the Royal Commission held Public Hearings in Darwin.

This saw people with lived experience bravely giving evidence in the hope that it will improve things for those who come
after them.

Behind the scenes, we heard more harrowing accounts from people bravely telling their story in private sessions. Again, people did this in the hope that things will improve.

The hearings may be finished, but it is not over! DAVLS continues to assist ADF members, veterans and their families in Darwin with our next trip planned for late November.

Darwin is a tight-knit garrison town. The North is strategically important and also operates as a forward base for regional deployments. Darwin also has a large, close veteran population.

The Darwin community has been incredibly welcoming and assisted us to get the word out to the community whenever and however they can.

Darwin has also provided a great example of how a variety of grassroots veteran support organisations can work together.

But there is still so much more to do. We can’t wait to get back there.

Jasmine Stanton

The long fight for justice

YVONNE SILLETT 'S life changed when she went public about her treatment as a gay woman in the Army. She always thought she was alone.

Born to serve: Yvonne Sillett adored her work in the Signal Corps.

When Yvonne Sillett gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide, it was the proudest day of her life.

She had not heard of DAVLS at the time, so wrote a letter to the Royal Commission last year, little knowing what impact it would have on her – and on others.

Angry and hurt

“For so many years, I’ve been angry, I’ve been hurt,” she said.

“For years, it was my partners who heard my story, and telling the story at the highest level was so cathartic for me.

“I walked outside the hearing with my wife and the TV cameras were out there – finally after 40 years people are interested in what I have to say.”

Telling her story has not been without cost to her mental health – “I have my good days and my bad days” – but she was astonished to discover that she was far from alone.

No Plan B

Yvonne was always going to join the military - she had no Plan B - coming from a military family where both her parents served in the Navy.

Her adored father later worked for 30 years in the Defence Signals Directorate with a top-secret clearance. That, and her love of sport, were the motivating factors.

“I was very close to my father, and I knew that he was in this secretive, spy sort of world,” she said. “Playing sport and finding out about my dad’s life. I didn’t think about anything else except joining the military.”

Dream come true 

And when she joined the Royal Australian Signal Corps at the age of 18, the life was everything that she had hoped for.

She represented the Army in a range of sports including basketball, softball, touch football and athletics. She became a recruiting instructor, and in 1985 she set up the first female recruit course at 1 Recruit Training Battalion Kapooka.

But then disaster struck.

Humiliation

While in the military, she realised that she was gay, but also realised that if word got out, this would be the end of her career – and that of her partner at the time.

In early July 1988, whilst she was working at the Defence Plaza, Yvonne  received a phone call asking her to come to Victoria Barracks for a 'security assessment interview'. It was the most humiliating experience of her life.

“They informed me that they had been following me for several months,” she detailed in her statement to the Royal Commission.

“They had followed me on a recent trip to Rutherglen with some female friends who were also gay. They said they knew I had visited gay bars.”

She was later told that her security clearance would be downgraded to ‘confidential’ and that she could no longer serve in the Signal Corps. It wasn’t long before she was left with no option but to elect for discharge.

Trailblazer

“I was absolutely shattered. I loved my career and had been known as a trailblazer for women in the Army,” she said.

“It was all I had known, and the rug was yanked from under my feet. The trauma I experienced was up there with losing my mother, and I experienced suicidal thoughts.”

Years past, including 16 years working in the Department of Defence before she and another veteran who lived nearby in Victoria formed the Discharged LGBTI Veterans’ Association.

National apology

She is pushing for a national apology for LQBTQI+ veterans who were discriminated against, and is a member of the Expert Advisory Group at DAVLS.

“It’s so important to have someone there on your side from the get-go,” she said.

“The lawyers at DAVLS will take you step by step through the process.

“A good friend told me recently that she was sexually assaulted when she served. I’ve known her for 40 years and had no idea.

“I put her in touch with DAVLS and her submission has now gone through to the Royal Commission.”

Want to read more? Follow the links below for more information.

Role call

NICK WARREN has moved sideways from Engagement Officer to Entitlements Officer. He has a long history and commitment to veteran services.

'Military veterans... have stepped forward to contribute to society, often at great personal cost.

What brought you into working with veterans?

Since qualifying as a social worker, my interest and work has been in helping people access their rights and entitlements and in extending these rights

I have worked as an advocate for military veterans with the NSW Legal Aid Commission since 2016. I have always found it profoundly unfair that some people miss out on what is rightly theirs, through a lack of access to information or difficulty dealing with the bureaucracies that control that access.

I was drawn to working with veterans because I was aware of just how poorly military service prepares people for the rules and hurdles of civilian life. There is often lip service to honouring our military for their service but accessing entitlements after service is a bewilderingly complex system that often lets our veterans down.

What do you enjoy about your role?

Military veterans, like our first responders, have stepped forward to contribute to society, often at great personal cost. In my advocacy role it is a privilege to use my skills in navigating bureaucracies and their rules, to get results for my clients.

I feel we are doing important work in getting the word out about our service and helping people to have their say to the Royal Commission.

It is people who have lived the experience who have the knowledge and the solutions, and this seems to be a once in a generation chance to be heard.

In a nutshell, what is your role?

So many of our callers at DAVLS have ongoing dramas with DVA that we have created new roles to help address this.

My work as an Entitlements Officer is to try to address these problems.

I will be helping our clients with an assessment of their entitlements and some initial advice on what can be done. I will then link them with good local advocates who can give continuing support and assistance.

We cannot wait for the end of the Royal Commission to address immediate problems and I am really looking forward to more direct contact with our veterans and their families to achieve this.

What would you like the Royal Commission to achieve?

This Royal Commission, and the Government that will receive their recommendation, must achieve lasting change in ADF and DVA for the better.

I also hope that the benefits of what is being learnt have a much wider impact – for our first responders who suffer many of the same stresses and injuries, and for anyone with physical and mental health issues who is finding it hard to access proper services.

What do you do to unwind and manage stress?

For me, getting good results and seeing lives improved reduces stress and avoids burnout. When the frustrations rise, a few minutes in my garden, seeing friends, getting down to the beach or playing pool at my local pub work wonders.

Outside the wire - outreach across the nation

Northern Territory

Woman Rachael Vincennt against a small wall with a sign saying Northern Territory
Solicitor Rachael Vincent attended the Darwin hearings.

DAVLS lawyers have spent the past couple of weeks working in the Territory supporting veterans, plus their families and supporters in their engagement with the Commission.

We have been assisting clients to draft their submissions and have been preparing for and attending private sessions with our clients.

From October 17 we have had a presence at the Royal Commission hearings, being held at the Hilton in Darwin.

We’ve had a busy time in the Territory. Many of the clients we supported in private sessions with the Commission afterwards reported feeling heard and listened to.

Many said it was the first time they had told their stories and reported feeling relieved and glad to be a part of something bigger.

Personally, it’s been great to have had so many on the ground conversations with veterans and to hear from them what the local issues are.

The Jas and Bernie story - it's a small world in Defence

Darwin’s local legend and champion of veterans’ mental health, Dr Bernie Westley, became one of DAVLS' great allies in the NT when we made his acquaintance.

Dr Bernie is nothing if not a doer. He enthusiastically swiped all our posters, cards and a bunch of our factsheets and has been busily distributing them around NT Facilities and letting people know about our service. He also put us in touch with a range of stakeholders we hadn’t yet connected with, sometimes right on the spot.

And, in a stroke of serendipity, it turns out that Dr Bernie was at ADFA with our very own Director of DAVLS, Jasmine Stanton, way back in the day.

After the two had the chance to catch up at the famous Mad Snake Café during the Royal Commission Public Hearings in Darwin, Jasmine said, “Bernie is exactly how I remember him – a country boy who is a straight talker, no nonsense and true to his word. So good to catch up!”

Dr Bernie wisely observed: "The Jas and Bernie story is really cool and demonstrates how small our country and defence force is. There are a lot of sad stories being told at the moment and it’s important that we remember the good stories, too."

South Australia

DAVLS lawyers Michael Pagano and Gabrielle Karas in Mount Gambier.

It has been a busy month for South Australia with community activities.

October was Mental Health Awareness month, and it was great to be on the ground as much as possible to engage with the community.

We travelled to Mount Gambier to assist clients with written submissions and to discuss how they can engage with the Royal Commission in private sessions.

We also had a presence at Peterborough’s 715 Health Check Day and attended the My Life, My Choices expo which was on October 29 and 30.

These were both great events to talk about the support the Defence and Veterans Legal Service provides and were the perfect opportunity to share information on the variety of options to engage with the Royal Commission.

Queensland

Lawyer Kathryn Starkey at the Transition Seminar in Brisbane.

It’s been a big month for stakeholder engagement here in Queensland.

We were recently at the Transition Seminar at Brisbane Convention Centre. We have had a huge level of engagement so far.

Earlier this month we attended the RSL and Legacy ESO conference and gave a quick presentation about DAVLS which also generated a lot of interest.

We also spoke at a local District Law Association conference

Western Australia

ESO Round Table at Irwin Barracks

This event proved to be a great forum for stakeholders in the veteran community to engage with one another and talk about the issues facing current and ex-serving members of the ADF.

The Round Table was attended by approximately 60 people, representing around 25 different stakeholder organisations, support groups, and service providers (including clinical psychologists and psychiatrists). 

DAVLS was given space in the agenda to talk about the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide, the interim report released in August, and the work it is doing to assist clients.

We were also able to meet ESO representatives face to face and generate some new relationships with stakeholders we had not yet encountered as part of our outreach efforts.

An exciting by-product of DAVLS' attendance was an offer by the Regimental Sergeant Major and Welfare Officer of 13 Brigade of a consultation room at Irwin Barracks for us to hold client appointments.

This will substantially increase the versatility and accessibility of DAVLS’ service delivery in WA.

Supporting veterans in prison

We attended Acacia Prison in the hills east of Perth to speak to members of the prisoner Veteran Support Group (VSG).

The VSG is an initiative actively supported by the prison superintendent (who is himself a veteran) and meets regularly to discuss veteran-specific issues faced by prisoners.

There were 14 prisoners present at the meeting where DAVLS spoke about the Royal Commission and the legal support available to those who want to share their experiences.

The meeting was also attended by members of Buddy Up Australia who spoke about engaging with prisoners’ families and also providing prisoners with a supportive community post-release.

There are around 80 veterans amongst the prisoner population at Acacia, with a large proportion of its staff also being veterans. 

DAVLS posters will be displayed around the prison with a priority phone number to allow prisoners to access the Info Line in as short a time as possible.  General resources will also be available to prison staff who want to contact DAVLS, and better enable them to support prisoners.

DAVLS looks forward to assisting veterans at Acacia Prison and to engaging with other correctional facilities across WA.

Tasmania

Clare Mittermayer with helpers at an RSL Wellbeing Expo.

We attended a Wellbeing expo in Swansea run by RSL Tasmania.

It was a great opportunity to build relationships with other organisations involved in supporting Veterans and servicing members.

What better way to promote DAVLS than being involved in a cooking competition?

The day was very well organised by the team from RSL.

We attended similar events in Exeter and Queenstown, as well as a veterans' forum.

Victoria

From left to right: Martin Catrerall, Secretary Keilor East RSL; DAVLS lawyer Dayle Partridge; Dave Cox, Guitars for Vets; Bruna Norrish, Disaster Relief Australia.

Wet, wet, wet

It is still raining here in Victoria, and the ongoing flood disaster is still affecting many Victorians, from those in the Murray River towns to inner city dwellers on the Maribyrnong.

Some of our clients have also been impacted, and some stakeholders too.

When planning an upcoming stakeholder event in Wodonga, with a stopover in flood-affected Wangaratta, it was expected that I would have to carefully consider the flooding and weather warnings.

I was not entirely prepared, however, to have to think about these things when attending a local stakeholder event at the Keilor East RSL, only a 20-minute drive from the office, but very close to the Maribyrnong River.

Driving home from the event in darkness, I could see small mountains of household goods lining the suburban streets. The shapes of couches, televisions, appliances and kids’ toys illustrated how the everyday lives of many people had been impacted by the river’s rise.

The event itself was the inaugural Veterans’ Dinner at Keilor East RSL.

Many members had been unable to attend the monthly veterans’ lunches, so secretary Martin Catterall and Welfare Officer Jenny Brown decided that an after-hours event could be popular.

They were right and there were 30 attendees present who enjoyed a free (and delicious) meal and even a drink or two on the house.

I was very pleased to be one of three speakers invited to the event. The other speakers were Dave Cox, from Guitars for Vets (who also played a wonderful song), and Buna Norrish from Disaster Relief Australia, who provided another reminder of the difficulties many Australians are currently experiencing because of recent flooding.

I also attended a Pathways event organised by Soldier On in Wodonga.

It is an event for veterans who are seeking employment opportunities and there will be a number of our other stakeholders there as well, along with participants. 

Even as I write this however, I am keeping one eye on the BOM!

New South Wales and ACT

Outreach - Family Day, 6 Aviation Regiment, Holsworthy

DAVLS lawywer Gerard Stapleton in a Blackhawk. He was too busy for a joyflight.

We spent a productive weekend representing DAVLS at a Family Day in Holsworthy, south-west Sydney.

We were permitted under convoy escort to drive to the car park outside the gate of the 6th Aviation Regimentt precinct.

6th Avn Regt is an Army squadron of Blackhawk helicopters which support special forces such as 2 Commando Regiment and the Navy Clearance Divers and branches of the Royal Australian Engineers involved in bomb and IED disposal.

A large number of those personnel were in uniform and on duty that day. Those with Protected Identity Status (PIS) were not wearing nametags or badges of rank. Even the “Black Dog” had PIS!

Also attending were a number of personnel in civilian attire including their spouses and children.

We shared the hangar with Soldier On and the Defence Mental Health Network and the fairy floss stand.

There were two Blackhawks flying consistently throughout the day taking defence members and their families for joy flights.

We were consistently busy and spoke to no less than 100 individuals including serving members, the 2 Commando Chaplain and Executive Officer and various welfare support personnel.

New ACT solicitor, Isabelle Whyte

ACT jurisdictional solicitors have had a busy month, including welcoming a new solicitor, Isabelle Whyte, to the team. Isabelle is eager to begin her journey, assisting Australian Defence Force members, veterans and their supporters wherever possible.

Community outreach and stakeholder engagement continues to be a key priority in the ACT.

Early in October, Madeleine Antrum and NSW DAVLS solicitor, Verity Mannix, delivered a presentation at the National Legacy Conference in Canberra.

It was a great opportunity to share information about our service, meet local veterans and their supporters, and learn more about the important work of Legacy.

We’ve also established a good connection with Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) and are pleased that detainees will now be able to contact us through the prison legal assistance line.

In addition to outreach, we’re continuing to help ACT clients, particularly in relation to preparing submissions and requesting private sessions.

The Royal Commission will be holding private sessions in Canberra in November and we are busy assisting clients in preparation for these.

1000 calls and counting – DAVLS helpline marks milestone

We provided information, referrals and help with submissions and private sessions  through our free DAVLS helpline on 1800 33 1800, and call volumes continue to rise.

We are marking a major milestone this month and putting the spotlight on a free service that assists growing numbers of veterans and ADF members.

Our free Information Line recently handled its 1,000th call and that provides a great opportunity to highlight the personalised support it provides.

The Info Line is staffed by a specialist team that is highly experienced in assisting current and former members of the Defence Forces, as well as their family members.

On your initial call to this service, we can:

  • provide introductory information about engaging with the Royal Commission
  • direct you to our free resources
  • arrange to post information to you
  • book you a free appointment with one of our lawyers, anywhere in Australia (these appointments are confidential and there’s no obligation on you to act as result of that appointment).

When you call the Info Line, you can remain anonymous if you wish. The help  provided by the Info Line, and by all our staff, is free, confidential and completely independent of the Royal Commission, DVA and ADF.

If you don’t feel like talking, you can also find online information about our services by visiting us at www.defenceveteranslegalservice.org.au.

If you call out of hours, please leave a message so that we can call you back.

DAVLS in your community

Our lawyers are working with local ex-service and veteran support organisations across the country, delivering community presentations and attending community events. You can catch up on a recent webinar on our website. If you would like DAVLS to deliver a presentation or attend an event in your community, either in person or virtually, contact Karen Mills at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.

We can answer your questions about engaging with the Royal Commission, what is involved and how it can benefit you and others in a friendly, relaxed environment. Depending on your event, we can also include opportunities for confidential, one-on-one discussions.

We have been attending all Royal Commission hearings and staffing an information stall at the hearing venues. These have been a valuable point of connection with interested members of the Defence and veteran community and an opportunity for information exchange with members of the Royal Commission team.

We are working closely with support organisations across Australia to spread the word about the specialist services we provide. You know your community and your community’s needs. Through this work, we have identified some groups who may face additional barriers when it comes to engaging with this Royal Commission:

  • Defence families – We are staffing stalls at family fun days, giving presentations to families through wellbeing centres and events, speaking about the value of families’ experiences  and delivering presentations in the community that highlight the important role family members can play in shaping the Royal Commission’s recommendations and legacy.
  • First Nations people – Through close consultation with First Nations communities, we have developed a range of resources including posters and brochures targeted to First Nations people.
  • Veterans in prison – We have developed posters for display in correctional facilities and are working to ensure people in prison can access our services wherever they are in Australia, including by offering a separate phone line for prisoner contact to ensure calls are answered as soon as possible and to allow a quality service to be delivered in the limited time prisoners have for phone calls. Follow-up services will be delivered via audio-visual connections.
DAVLS Lawyers Yolanda and Jacinta address Legacy conference in Hexham NSW.
Penrith Family Fun Day during a break in the rain.
Celebrating the opening of the new Wellbeing Centre in Wagga Wagga.

Future hearings and dates for your diary

The Royal Commission has held public hearings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Townsville and Hobart.

Further hearings will take place in Darwin from 17 October 2022, and Wagga Wagga from 28 November 2022. The Royal Commission has indicated it will hold hearings in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in 2023, with the schedule subject to confirmation. Hearing details are provided on the Royal Commission website when confirmed.

Key dates to be aware of:

  • 28 November 2022 - Wagga Wagga Royal Commission hearings
  • November 2022 - Canberra, Royal Commission private sessions
  • 28 April 2023 – deadline to register for a private session (sessions run until December 2023).
  • 13 October 2023 – submissions close.
  • 17 June 2024 - final Royal Commission report due.

Resources

Many of our resources are available for download from our website. We are also happy to send out supplies for you to share.

We have additional promotional materials if you can help us get information out about our free services

To order free resources, including posters, brochures, wallet cards and factsheets, or inquire about promotion, please contact us at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.

Crisis support

For immediate help in a crisis, please contact one of the following services:

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