There are concerns post-traumatic stress among Australia’s veterans is leading to an increase in the number of returned service people in prison.
One veterans’ support group believes there could be as many 500 veterans in prisons across Australia.
But those figures are uncertain, as there is no agency keeping track of what happens to soldiers when they return home from war.
Beau King, 31, is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and was first on the scene when his friend Michael Lyddiard stepped on a mine.
“That was probably the biggest one for me,” Mr King told the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“That was literally the day that for me, [I thought] enough was enough.
“I couldn’t physically take any more. I just … that was it.”
He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on his return to Australia, but did not seek any help.
Instead, he quit the army, returned to civilian life and his life spiralled out of control.
“[My] anger levels were through the roof,” he said.
“I’d literally been in fights, I had both sides above my eye split open, two weekends in a row, I had stitches in my head, I was getting into fights, going out … there’s a lot of blank spots there as well.
“It became a period where people sort of had this idea of who I was and this was me – I fight and I drink.”
Mr King narrowly avoided jail after he was caught drink driving three times in 18 months.
A common story among veterans, former magistrate says
Mr King’s descent into hell is a common story among veterans.
The head of Adelaide’s ex-Military Rehabilitation Centre, Ian Campbell, has 16 soldiers on his books who are either in jail, before the courts or on parole.
“A coping mechanism is to drink or to drug,” he said.
“I think this is the point where the chaps are more likely to go off the main highway and find a dirt road to scuff around in.”
High-profile lawyer and former magistrate Brian Deegan has dealt with dozens of veterans in his 35-year legal career.
He said there was a common theme among young veterans who had returned from war and ended up before the courts.
“I found that in the majority of cases, mental health had a profound effect on the serviceperson’s offending,” he said.
Mr Deegan also knows what PTSD feels like. He suffered from the condition for years after his son Josh was killed in the 2002 Bali Bombing.
“Quite simply, it changes your personality,” he said.
Mr Deegan said Defence should know the impact military service has on its soldiers and called on the department to follow up with its members and former members who are struggling.
“The Government has an obligation to these young men and women, who volunteer to go overseas, to protect what we now describe as Australia’s interests overseas, and upon their return they should be looked after.”
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 16 October 2014.