Friday, 24 October 2008

Payouts for families of abused soldiers

The families of four young soldiers [diggers] who took their lives after suffering abuse in the army hope that government compensation is a step toward changing Australia's military justice system.

In a unique move, the federal government on Thursday confirmed it would make confidential ex gratia payments to the families in recognition of the hurt suffered following their sons' deaths.

The case was a long and sad saga, Defence [War] Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said.

"The families are entitled to feel that the death of their sons was partly caused by shortcomings in the defence force system," he said.

"They are of course entitled to feel also that the after events weren't handled all that well in some cases."

Mr Fitzgibbon said it was an ex gratia case which legally set no precedent and would be referred to a more general review of the military compensation scheme.

The families of Private Jeremy Williams, Lance-Corporal Nicholas Sheils, Gunner John Satatas and Private David Hayward, lodged their claims with the federal government in 2005.

Adrian Hayward, father of Private Hayward who took his own life after absence without leave (AWOL) from the army for two months in 2004, said the army did not inform the family his son was AWOL, in breach of army protocols.

Four days after David's 20th birthday in March 2004, the Haywards, from Cobram in Victoria, were told his body had been found at a backpackers hostel in Perth.

"It's not about the money - it's about trying to get a system in place for other children going to the army," Mr Hayward said.

David's mother Wendy said she was certain there were more families in the same situation who feared making claims against the army.

"They bully the parents as well, they threatened us," she said, fighting tears.

"A few days after David died (the army) came in ... and they said to us, 'If you discuss this report with anybody it's a federal offence, you'll go to prison'."

Private Jeremy Williams, 20, hanged himself in Singleton, NSW, on February 2, 2003 after telling his parents he was made to feel like scum because he was injured and had been transferred to a rehabilitation platoon.

His father Charles Williams, from Mt Barker in WA, said his son spoke to his mother about his feelings of worthlessness before he took his life.

Mr Williams said a culture of ostracising injured soldiers went unchecked and continued to occur.

Lance-Corporal Sheils took his own life in 1996, four years after a training accident in which he accidentally shot and killed a fellow soldier.

His father Paul said his son was never the same after the incident.

"The army did not treat him properly, they neglected him proper medical care and he went downhill and on New Year's Eve, took his own life," Mr Sheils said in Adelaide.

The mother of Gunner Satatas, who was found hanged at Holsworthy Barracks, west of Sydney, in April 2003 aged 19, said her son, of Portuguese background, suffered racial abuse and bullying from his superiors.

Rosa Satatas said her son was treated "like a dog."

"The only thing that makes me happy is now, before they mistreat our children, they have to think twice," she said.

Lawyer Emma Hines, of Slater and Gordon, which represented the four families, called for independent military courts, instead of closed military proceedings.

Quote: We don't need a Defence Force. We need a Humanitarian Aid Group that can also defend itself. That takes care of the Bullies and the Lethal Memes in our community as well. Violence, Domestic Violence, Bullying etc all stem from the Military and Police Service that don't lead by any form of example to the wider community. Then how can the Government suggest that they are trying to prevent violence in the community? They can't have their cake and eat it too. They must lead by some form of example.

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