Friday, January 25, 2008

Soldier was 'victim' of health system

PTSD is a MF

Soldier was 'victim' of health system
Email Print Normal font Large font January 23, 2008 - 6:42PM

Special forces captain Andrew Paljakka, who killed himself within months of returning from a tour of Afghanistan, was a victim of a fragmented defence force health system, a military inquiry has been told.

Eight months after returning to Australia, the 27-year-old soldier was found hanging in a Kings Cross hotel room, with a post-mortem examination revealing alcohol and cocaine in his system.

Capt Paljakka had been admitted to hospital in Sydney numerous times for treatment after returning from Afghanistan in June 2006.

He had lost 13kg and was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder which he attributed to killing a man in Afghanistan, and after witnessing the rape of a young boy.

The inquiry was told the soldier suffered chronic depression, alcohol dependency and abuse, suspected illicit drug use, had separated from his wife, was facing financial trouble, had his car stolen and was facing discharge from the defence force in the period leading up to his death.

In a statement, one friend recalled being asked by Capt Paljakka to get a gun and shoot him and there were reports of two other failed suicide attempts.

The soldier was admitted several times to Sydney's Balmoral Naval Hospital and during his last stay at the facility was referred to St John of God Hospital at North Ryde for a specialist post-traumatic stress disorder treatment program.

However, records detailing his medical history were not provided to the civilian St John of God facility, the inquiry was told.

Giving evidence at Sydney's Randwick Army Barracks on Wednesday, Australian Defence Force director of mental health, Group Captain Leonard Lambeth, said he was "shocked" the information had not been passed on.

"The passing on of that material would make it easier for St John of God (Hospital) to make decisions," Group Capt Lambeth said.

Psychiatric specialist Alexander MacFarlane told the inquiry that problems in the case had arisen from systemic mismanagement.

"One of the difficulties I think the Australian Defence Force faces ... is the health facilities are somewhat fragmented," Professor MacFarlane said.

"ADF doesn't have the necessary assets to provide the care he really required and this means there are a series of potential holes into which the passage of information falls."

Outside the inquiry, Arvi Paljakka said his son "wasn't the same man at all" after returning from Afghanistan.

He accused the army of a deliberate cover-up in its treatment of his son. He had demanded that the inquiry be opened to the public after eight days of closed hearings in November.

"It's very clear he wasn't treated properly," Mr Paljakka told reporters.

The inquiry also was told a former army captain and key witness into Capt Paljakka's actions in Afghanistan was now serving time in a NSW prison, awaiting sentence for stealing and possessing 10 rocket launchers.

A statement from the former officer, Shane Della Vedova, was among those submitted to the inquiry.

Della Vedova, a 30-year ADF veteran, pleaded guilty to stealing the rocket launchers after being ordered to destroy them.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Squadron Leader James Gibson, said Della Vedova was well-placed to comment on Capt Paljakka's movements in Afghanistan after he "went from his base in a helicopter to an undisclosed location".

"During that (time Capt Paljakka) observed a body wrapped in a sheet," Sqd Ldr Gibson said.

"(Della Vedova) is in a prime position to be able to comment on what happened during these couple of days when Capt Paljakka left his base."

The inquiry president, former West Australian magistrate Frank Cullen, said it would be "difficult" to have Della Vedova attend the inquiry from Sydney's Long Bay Jail.

The hearing continues.

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