Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Christchurch.

NZ veterans 'suffering in silence'

New Zealand troops are to leave Afghanistan ahead of schedule. Photo / File
New Zealand troops are to leave Afghanistan ahead of schedule. Photo / File

The Government is not doing enough to look after our shell-shocked soldiers returning from war-torn hot-spots like Afghanistan, says a leading Christchurch veterans service.

Rannerdale Veterans Hospital and Home, founded in 1920 to provide healthcare and support for Boer War survivors, says New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) veterans are suffering in silence.

General manager Stephen Shamy says post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or post-deployment syndrome, is affecting many returning war heroes, but mainstream psychological health services aren't geared up to help them.

Now, the veterans home - which is shifting to providing home-based services, counselling, and wellness sessions to fill the healthcare void - is hosting a veterans healthcare forum next week to "raise the debate" about post-deployment care.

"We need to realise that if we're sending soldiers to places like Afghanistan and the Sinai, we need to realise that we're putting New Zealanders in harm's way - and when they come home, that should not be the end of it," Mr Shamy says.

"We know there are problems for returning personnel and we don't believe that main stream psychological health services truly understands modern PTSD.

"The Government is not doing enough to look after our war veterans. The NZDF is slowly recognising there is an issue but there really needs to be a multi-agency approach, which not just involves health services, to look after ex-service personnel and their families."

The inaugural healthcare forum is being held behind closed doors at Rannerdale next Tuesday, May 29, and will hear from several keynote speakers including Baden Ewart, a Vietnam veteran who is now the Colonel of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. He will be joined by Veterans Affairs representatives, as well as Lieutenant Colonel Hugh McAslan of the NZDF who will talk about what currently happens to returning service personnel, and how it can be done better.

One of the major issues, Mr Shamy says, is the lack of screening and information being collated on young men with possible PTSD issues by GPs and primary healthcare providers.

An experienced British GP will speak at the forum to highlight this issue, which Mr Shamy says is seen every day at Rannerdale.

"We have guys here who have profound anxiety which can be directly related to their service. Not only does it affect them, but it also affects generations of their families," he said.

"War will have an impact on people, and their families, and how they come to raise their children.

"The reality is that if you send people into harm's way, and don't provided support for them, it will have an impact on society.

"We hope the forum will start the debate, which is long overdue."

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