Colonel says minister should be more careful about the publications he publicly backs.

A book with a foreword written by NZ First's Ron Mark was described as "terrible" by a Defence Force expert reviewer yet the NZDF bought 10 copies for "strategic" reasons after the politician became Minister of Defence.

There are now 10 copies of The Good News About PTSD in NZDF libraries even though expert personnel reviewing it said Mark needed to be "more careful about endorsing books".

Inquiries by the NZ Herald have revealed claims the author Dion Jensen was jettisoned from a veteran support group after concerns over his advocacy for the book and its techniques.

Jensen launched the book with Mark's help in 2016, saying the politician "put his reputation on the line to launch the book in Parliament".

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Mark's foreword says: "Too often we try to resolve a problem by bringing in specialists who operators don't understand or relate to and (vice versa)."

He said the book should be read by anyone serving in uniform, clinicians who struggled to connect with them and politicians responsible for service personnel.

Mark's advice is in contrast to NZDF's review of the book in November 2016, which saw a statement prepared if contacted for comment.

In documents released through the Official Information Act, the statement said NZDF had refused to endorse the book which "may be useful" for some people with PTSD.

However, "NZDF felt Mr Jensen was advocating approaches that sit at odds with positions NZDF considers appropriate".

"For example, Mr Jensen promotes self-help, and in places in the book is sceptical of the value of people reaching out to mental health practitioners.

"By contrast, the NZDF recommends to its people that if they are struggling with issues to seek professional help as early as possible."

While NZDF's holding statement said the book would be included in a range of material available to personnel, it did not buy it for another 13 months - until after Mark became Minister of Defence.

The purchase came after Jensen began lobbying NZDF over the book in mid-October, as NZ First was carrying out coalition negotiations.

In an email to NZDF, Jensen highlighted Mark's foreword for the second edition of the book.

A Colonel in the Defence Health Directorate told Jensen NZDF would buy "a few books" for its library now that it was available on Amazon.

In a follow-up internal email after Mark had been appointed Minister of Defence, the colonel said "in light of recent events" a "copy of the book" would be bought for the NZDF library.

"Good idea," responded another service member, noting the book had been mentioned by Mark during his speech to the RSA the day before.

Meanwhile, Jensen continued writing to Mark as new Minister of Defence with emails calling him "uncle".

In an email on November 3, Jensen sent Mark a supportive letter from an psychologist. He told Mark: "It will give you a lot of ammunition."

He followed up with 10 autographed copies of the book sent to Mark in mid-November. The minister has confirmed he provided the books to "senior defence leaders" to show "some of the work" he had been involved in previously, and to give an example of someone with PTS.

Documents show NZDF finally bought its own 10 copies of the book for about $500 on November 30, 13 months after it originally said it would do so.

The books were then included in the NZDF library system with personnel notified through newsletter.

A copy of the internal library newsletter was sent in February to the colonel who had dealt with Jensen.

The colonel said he was "very familiar" with book, adding: "The foreword is written by our new minister … knew we would get increased pressure from [Jensen] (which we have) hence strategic purchase of copies for the library (albeit a terrible book and Ron Mark should be more careful about endorsing books)."

A spokesman for NZDF said the colonel was not criticising the book's advice when calling it "terrible".

"It is the personal opinion of the colonel that the book continues to contain a number of grammatical errors and structural issues that detract from the readability of the book."

The reference to it being a "strategic" purchase did not reflect Mark's recent appointment but NZDF's desire to provide tools that could "increase mental health literacy and awareness, enhance resilience, and promote effective rehabilitation and recovery".

The "recent" event which prompted purchase of the book was also not linked to Mark's new role. Instead, it referred to the email sent by Jensen pointing to the book's availability on Amazon.

The spokesman said the aspects of the book about which NZDF was concerned had been changed and the book was bought after it was aware it could be bought on Amazon.

He said endorsements included in the second edition of the book from mental health professionals contributed to easing concerns.

Mark said PTSD was a subject "dear to my heart" and he had written the foreword "thinking of friends of mine suffering PTSD" including "some of whom didn't ask for help until it was too late".

Asked if NZDF did enough for veterans, Mark said it had been "slow to respond" to issues affecting those who had served in Vietnam, Timor and Afghanistan but had improved.

"I believe their systems were inadequate for quite some time and I was vocal about it when in opposition."

Mark said he found "nothing wrong" with the book being called "terrible". "I understand the colonel was referring to the writing style and spelling and grammar."

A spokesman for the No Duff veterans' support organisation said Jensen had been "removed from the group" two years ago because of "significant disagreements over methodology and intent".

"In particular, the governance team were unanimous in their concerns over Jensen's demands that No Duff endorse and promote his book ...

"The governance team could not in good conscience endorse a self-styled 'self help' book from an author with no training or experience in the area of mental health, and written without any input from mental health clinicians or subject matter experts, particularly the New Zealand Ministry of Health."

The NZ Herald contacted the psychologists whose letters supporting the book were printed as appendices labelled "clinical endorsement".

While none were aware - or had agreed - their support had been labelled "clinical endorsement", there was support for the book as a useful tool for those suffering PTSD and related illnesses.

The infamous PT Hill - the regular training run for NZDF personnel at Kiwi Base in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
The infamous PT Hill - the regular training run for NZDF personnel at Kiwi Base in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Former police psychologist Sandi Wickman said Jensen developed the idea of a "subconscious bodyguard" to explain the reactions experienced by those with PTSD.

"I found the concept of using this analogy extremely helpful for not only PTSD but a number of other anxiety-related disorders."

She said it allowed people to understand where anxiety came from and to take control, which could alleviate symptoms.

University of Portsmouth's Dr John Leach - an expert in extreme environmental medicine - said his endorsement was offered as a former serviceman rather than as a psychologist.

Leach wrote Jensen "hit the button" with a "practical approach to post-deployment problems".

Jensen did not return NZ Herald requests for an interview or emailed questions.

He has said he was compelled to write it for veterans suffering as a result of their service, offering techniques that would help them understand in military terms the impact of mental injury.

Jensen explained to readers: "I am not a doctor. I cannot give you medical advice but I can report on my personal journey and that of others who have had the courage to share."

Mark has weathered nine months as defence minister with concerns raised over him not wearing service medals appropriately and over-use of Royal NZ Air Force aircraft.