There was a time when Deb Evison of Callala Bay was flying high in her career with the Navy.
She had completed a Degree in Aerospace Engineering, was the first woman from Australia’s defence forces to do post-graduate studies in flight dynamics in England, and was working at HMAS Albatross as a test flight engineer.
But all that changed when she was injured at work, leading to her being medically discharged when she was pregnant, leaving her to face difficult administrative process just to receive basic entitlements.
“It was incredibly daunting, being seven months pregnant and ending a career of 15 years in the service – being told that I was no longer fit for the job that I’d studied for, for many years,” she said.
While her injuries were work-related, Ms Evison said Defence was eager to wash its hands of her and pass responsibility for her rehabilitation on to Veterans Affairs.
“I don’t think Defence helped me,” she said.
“I think they ticked the boxes, turned a blind eye, they’ve covered what they have to do, not what they need to do.”
Ms Evison said her biggest concern was being left without an income, like some of the veterans she had met who were sleeping rough or living in caravans.
Fortunately she had the support of key people including a strong advocate who was able to weave through the mountain of convoluted paperwork and administrative processes.
But that did not stop her feeling lost and abandoned by the Defence Force to which she had given 15 years of service.
“Through the whole medical discharge process which is quite daunting, convoluted and uncertain, I definitely wasn’t in a good place,” Ms Evison said.
The fate of many modern veterans was discussed last week as Innoclub held its first meeting in Nowra, and similar experiences were shared by the organisers.
Wayne Bemet told the meeting he worked as Navy air crew in Williamtown before he was injured at work and was medically discharged, interrupting his plans for a long career in the military.
He said he had to negotiate his own discharge, “and there’s a lot to negotiate”.
“I’ve done it really, really hard,” Mr Bemet said.
“Why does everyone else have to do it hard?”
He blamed the difficulties and complexities of Defence bureaucracy for the high rates of veteran suicides, homelessness and unemployment.
Mr Bemet said he had seen how Defence offered nothing in the way of financial training, and as a result regularly saw military personnel blow large sums of cash on expensive cars or motorbikes, without being equipped to save and plan for the future.
He said he was fortunate to have good people around him when he was discharged, advising him about managing his finances while he retrained in financial management.
He is offering a one-day personal budgeting course free of charge when Innoclub returns to the Shoalhaven in coming weeks.
image: Glenn Ellard