Newly appointed
Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Bruce Billson has outraged Australian defence force veterans with a controversial declaration
in a SMH article by Cynthia Banham
early last month. According to Billson, the armed forces need to foster a “new breed of ‘emotionally resilient’
personnel,” better equipped to cope with the demands of modern military
engagements.

“Whereas in the past
the military was viewed as a place where social ‘misfits’ did time in order to
get ‘sorted out’”, the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister for
Foreign Affairs told the SMH, “such
people were not suited to today’s defence force, where multiple deployments to
difficult environments was the norm.”

Unsurprisingly,
thousands of diggers – including those suffering post traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) due to their military service – have taken Billson’s criticism
personally. Various veterans’ groups are already fighting the Howard Government for better TPI (Totally
and Permanently Incapacitated) pensions, which currently comprise a paltry $21,000 pa, a
devalued health gold card and a system that’s more concerned about the bottom
line than the health of ex-soldiers who have fought for their country.

“I don’t think Billson understands the
absolute anger we have towards him and his government (over health
care),” one Vietnam veteran suffering PTSD told me. “If I were
Billson or John Howard I’d be concerned because desperate people do
desperate
things.”

Indeed. Vietnam veterans have a higher average rate of
suicide compared with the rest of the Australian male population. More disturbingly, their children have a
suicide rate three times higher than that of the general population.

The reverberations of
the offending article have now mushroomed to the extent that Sam North,
Managing Editor of The SMH & The Sun-Herald,
wrote to veterans’ groups last Friday in an attempt the put out the fire.
Unfortunately, his efforts only seem to have made matters worse.

Billson needs to come
out of his ivory tower and talk to the veterans about his disgraceful slight on
them instead of relying on Sam North to do his dirty work. Aussies who have gone to war for this great
country deserve better.

Peter Fray

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