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Veterans face the ultimate indignity

It is hard sitting with a veteran - someone decorated for bravery, no less - when he tells you he has been thinking of taking his life. Gut-wrenching though it was, I wasn't surprised. I has seen this coming for months.

Dave (not his real name) is one of hundreds of veterans who are now having their service turned against them, and used to humiliate and destroy them. You see, Dave's wife made a domestic violence complaint against him, claiming that he was violent because of his service in the Defence Force. For good measure she claimed he had access to weapons because of his service, and all his friends had access to weapons as well.

For a proud man like Dave, it was a kick in the guts. He had left the Army a decade ago, and had not handled a weapon for years. In fact, the only person he knows who has a gun is a friend who is a priest.

Absurd though it was, this stuff sticks. Dave's lawyer told him not to fight the claim because he couldn't risk the magistrate finding against him and ending up on a domestic violence register for the rest of his life.  

It is the ultimate indignity, but it is a slur being used over and over against many veterans.

Jasmin Newman, a men's support worker, has seen it many times.

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"Returning veterans often face an additional trauma upon returning home from service. They come home to face a whole new battle with being removed from their family homes because they are deemed to be prone to violence, even when none has taken place," she tells me.

"These men are left feeling extreme isolation, when what they need is the love and connection of their family which was once their sanctuary."

A prominent anti-domestic violence campaigner once claimed that all men were capable of violence and the problem is that the media and the public all too happily see veterans as caricatures, not real people. Former soldiers are made out to be violent, and this feeds into stereotypes of men generally, according to Ms Newman.

"Fearing men based on speculation that they 'might' be violent is extremely damaging for society as a whole," she says.  

"T​hese statements, repeated and reinforced, have created an irrational fear of 'all men'.

"The fact is we are all capable of anything, including love and compassion, and arguably none more so than those men and women who have served their country."

Being torn from their families, and slurred as violent is clearly a factor in a tidal wave of veteran suicides.  

"All veterans I have spoken with who were suicidal were going through relationship breakdown," Ms Newman says.

The government has now launched an inquiry into veteran suicide after it was revealed that as many veterans committed suicide in Australia last year as have been lost in fourteen years of war in Afghanistan. 

Of 3027 suicides last year, 2292 were men.  That is over six men a day taking their lives.

The rate amongst veterans is even worse; it is almost 20 per cent higher.

Dave could very easily have been one of these men. Fortunately he sought help.

The irony was he had been in a psychiatric hospital in another state for weeks when his wife made her claims. He had admitted himself to the hospital because of the depression arising from many months as the victim, not the perpetrator, of family violence.

For veterans like Dave, the idea of a fair go has been turned upside down.

"One day a year people line up to clap and thank me for my service. The other 364 days of the year I might as well tell people I sell drugs to schoolkids, because that is how I am treated," he says.

Our veterans are people first and foremost. They love, laugh, have hopes and dreams, but we are inclined to see them through a narrow prism. Be that as it may, nobody should be worse off for having served their country, especially not before the law.

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