Our Soldiers – Pensions and PTSD


During the week, I received one of those ‘please pass on emails’ from a friend that described how unfair it was that Australian military pensions are so poor in comparison with those of the general public and especially those of our politicians. As a Vietnam Veteran, I have a lot of sympathy for that view. Many of these types of emails are factually incorrect and based on distorted information, but when I poked around some web sites looking for accurate information, this view appears to be quite appropriate. We do reward our service men and women dismally.

Currently, after an incredibly long 20 years of service, a basic soldier retires on an amount roughly equal to 62% of their previous income; a measly service pension of $24,600 per year. On the other hand, a politician (just a backbencher) receives something like a pension of 83% of their income of $195,000m per year. See this article here if you want more detailed research information on this subject.

This is grossly unfair and morally unjust. It is the politicians who send our young men and women to war, exposing them to all its horrors and then provide so little financial support that once home, our service men and women are left on the scrap heap with very little financial support.

Unlike almost every other category of worker, every time a soldier on active service puts on their uniform in the morning, they do so knowing that today, their life is literally on the line. When a soldier is killed in action, our politicians publicly proclaim that their contribution was incredibly valuable and that our nation owes them a huge debt. Bullshit! We provide their young widow and family with a pittance and then the whole lot is forgotten very quickly.

For soldiers who do come home, many suffer the  trauma of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). This is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in Australia. An in-depth article in today’s Saturday Age, says that: “Most Australians are likely to have at least one traumatic experience during their lives, and 5-10 per cent of those who do are likely to develop PTSD, according to the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) says 1713 veterans of recent conflicts are suffering from PTSD, and of those, 955 are veterans of either the Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts. But Katie Tonacia, a co-founder of PTSD support group Picking Up the Peaces, says the real number is likely much higher, with many sufferers developing symptoms years after leaving the service. Of the more than 45,000 Australians who have served in conflicts since 1999, the Department of Defence estimates that nearly one in five will suffer a mental disorder”.

We used to think that PTSD was only suffered by bludgers and ‘weak minded’ people, but one of the lessons that we clearly learned from Vietnam was that PTSD can affect anyone, and sometimes very quickly. My observation is that military conflict exposes people to more stress and terror than human beings were ever designed to experience. Military training creates incredibly high expectations of what soldiers think they should be able to achieve and when they find that it is not humanly possible to do this (or for very long), guilt and feelings of failure replace self esteem and result in significant psychological injury.

Increasing rates of pay and superannuation will, of course, not decrease this on their own, but they if they are not fair rewards in relation to the rest of the community, we exacerbate problems of anxiety and perceived lack of self worth.

I think that we should let our politicians know that our service men and women are treated very unfairly and unjustly indeed.