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Army under fire over rise in non-combat injury rate

AT LEAST one in eight of the 18,206 Diggers who have served in Afghanistan between 2005 and October 2012 fell victim to a non-combat related injury or physical or mental illness.

The figure peaked at almost one-in-five in 2009 with 851 Defence Force members reporting non combat related illnesses or injuries.

Defence blames the 17-fold rise on ''confusion'' which it said led to ''significant under reporting'' before 2009. The true figures for illness and injury during the past seven years were almost certainly higher.

A senior soldier welfare advocate has labelled the statistics a disgrace, saying a 12.5 per cent casualty rate would not be tolerated in any other workplace or workforce.

''The employer would be held to account,'' the national president of the Defence Force Welfare Association, David Jamison, said.

''There would be a royal commission or a judicial inquiry.''


Mr Jamison, a former colonel with the Australian Army, wants a ''covenant'' to be developed to spell out what soldiers have given up as part of their commitment to Australia and, what the country pledges to do for them in return.

''We are having difficulty getting the support we need for that,'' he said.

Defence said that 2276 out of 3841 work health and safety incidents in Afghanistan which included ''near misses, exposure, illness etc'' had resulted in injury or illness. This was in addition to the 39 soldiers killed and 242 wounded in action since the war began.

A Defence spokesman said in many cases injuries and illnesses were minor and included sprained ankles, minor cuts, abrasions and bruises sustained during physical fitness training, head colds and gastro-enteritis.

Mr Jamison also said combat wounds could be relatively minor but had to be reported as a matter of course. He said mental illness and psychological issues such as post traumatic stress disorder fell into the ''non-combat related category''.

Defence insiders said that diggers were often loathe to report non-combat related injuries as, once disclosed, they appeared on annual fitness reports and could affect career opportunities.

While all soldiers injured in Afghanistan or the United Arab Emirates are compensated at the same rate as for combat wounds, those injured while training to go are not.

Mr Jamison, who said a recent review of military compensation had fallen short of delivering a fair result for many Diggers, wants the distinction between whether a ADF member is hurt or maimed in a combat zone as opposed to non-combat related activities elsewhere to be abolished. ''There is a higher degree of recognition [in the amount of compensation] for wounds received in combat [zones],'' he said. ''My personal view is the level of disability or impairment should dictate the level of compensation.''

He said the community did not understand that when an individual signed on with the Defence Force they relinquished human and legal rights.

''ADF members can, and have, been ordered into lethal situations where it is almost certain they will die,'' he said. ''If they refuse, they are breaking the law. That is the nature of military service. There needs to be a unitary compensation system that is easy to access and provides appropriate rehabilitation and compensation.''

Mr Jamison said a decade of conflict coupled with the relatively small size of the Defence Force had contributed to the problem of exposure to illness and injury.

''We are seeing modern soldiers clock up significantly greater combat experience than their forefathers in World War II. I have heard of one SAS member who has completed 16 service rotations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have to look after these people.''