Mark "Shorty" Thorn's childhood dream of becoming a military man was smashed when he dislocated his elbow during his first year of infantry training in NSW.
"When I was seven years old, I saw my cousin come home in uniform to my grandparents' place, and I thought back then, 'Oh, I am going to do that!" Mr Thorn said.
Due to his injury, he served five years in various clerical roles at battalion headquarters in Brisbane before he was discharged in 1992.
"I was shoved into a black hole with no directions," Mr Thorn said of his first months out of the military.
The-then 22-year-old went on a downward spiral of alcohol, partying and drugs after being released into the community without the proper skills or knowledge to transition into civilian life.
Until that point, he had lived most of his young adult life among a camaraderie of like-minded peers, having accommodation, bills and meals provided for him, and being taught to kill during training drills.
But he was one of the lucky ones, he said. The Chief Orderly Room Sergeant in the military "got the ball rolling" and managed to get Mr Thorn on Incapacity Benefits with the Department of Veteran Affairs DVA for about a year.
"Even with an advocate, it's still just mind blowing (all the paperwork)," Mr Thorn said.
"It's easy to see why so many guys just throw their hands up in the air and end up pulling the pin on life."
After months of hearings, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide recommended in its interim report on August 11 that legislation be streamlined due to the adverse effects it was having on the mental health of current and former ADF personnel. Even being a contributing factor to suicidality.
As part of its response on September 26, the government agreed to clear the backlog of 41,799 claims as of May 2022 by the end of 2023. A recruitment drive of 500 additional DVA staff is currently underway.
But it comes too late for some.
"We put our neck on the line," Mr Thorn said. "We sign a blank cheque up to the value of our lives for our country. Then we just get thrown on the scrap heap, no longer required due to age or injury."
Mr Thorn is today the NSW representative for veteran welfare support group Grunts Australia, which provides a similar level of camaraderie that military personnel receive while with the defence forces.
"For many, it has been life-saving being back among our own," Mr Thorn said.
For his own mental well-being, Mr Thorn said he has not been following the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide which started in 2021.
"It's all government smoke and mirrors," he said.
Mr Thorn said the $28.9 million allocated to the Royal Commission over two years would be better served to employ a lot more staff to expedite veterans' claims so they can "get on with life" much sooner.
"Instead they've got to fight tooth and nail, and harder than they ever have on the battlefield, to get some sort of compensation for injuries sustained."
Of the commission's 13 recommendations, the recently-elected Labor government noted two and agreed to 11, and also issued an apology.
"On behalf of the Australian Government, I say, sorry," Minister for Veterans' Affairs Matt Keogh said.
He said Australia had lost more military personnel to suicide over the past 20 years than through operations over the same period in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"When a person joins the ADF, they undertake a commitment of service to our country, a commitment that may place their life, their health, their wellbeing in harm's way. Families join them on this journey.
"It is our duty to meet the commitment in kind, through looking after our service members and their families, during and after their time in the ADF."
Grunts Australia secretary Donald Laird served 21 years with the defence forces in peacekeeping roles in Malaysia, New Guinea and Egypt until 2001.
He was released after suffering knee and back injuries, PTSD and a skin disorder at the age of 38. It took ten years before he was issued a Gold Card, which gives him access to clinical treatment for all medical issues.
But he says he had to have someone advocating on his behalf in order to navigate two pieces of legislation and "jump through hoops" to get the Card.
"Once I walked out the door they forgot all about me. There was nothing. There was nothing. That is why I try and push people towards the RSL," Mr Laird said.
"If we want change in the RSL then the only way we can invoke change is to become a part of it."
Mr Laird is also skeptical whether the money allocated in the 2022 federal budget for the DVA to hasten through the backlog of claims is going to improve much.
"The DVA doesn't have the best score when it comes to doing the best thing by veterans because it is run by public servants, not veterans," Mr Laird said. The government will just throw the money at the DVA and hope for the best, he said.
From 2001 to 2019, about 1273 members with ADF service since 1985, committed suicide, according to the most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare AIHW report.
Hearings continue in Wagga Wagga, and the commission is expected to issue its final report on June 17, 2024.
Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732; Headspace 1800 650 890; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
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