Wodonga Rotary Club tackles mental health month by staging a forum to help soldiers struggling with return to civilian life

A LACK of awareness about the tasks of soldiers in modern-day war zones makes it hard for them to adjust to life at home, a former army commander believes.

Wangaratta RSL sub-branch president Ash Power, a retired lieutenant-general, will speak on post-traumatic stress disorder at Lift the Lid, a public event aimed at raising awareness about mental health among service personnel.

It has been organised by the Rotary Club of Wodonga West and will be held at the city’s RSL club on Saturday from 6.30pm.

“Nowadays we send people to different places and it’s not in the news and the rest of Australia wouldn’t know what they’re doing when they’re gone,” Mr Power said.

The veteran of 15 stints in Afghanistan and deployments to East Timor and Bougainville said soldiers in the post-September 11 era faced the prospect of being confronted by traumatic scenes much sooner in their careers than he did.

Speaking out: Retired army leader Ash Power will talk about mental health at a Wodonga forum on Saturday. Picture: WANGARATTA CHRONICLE

Speaking out: Retired army leader Ash Power will talk about mental health at a Wodonga forum on Saturday. Picture: WANGARATTA CHRONICLE

“I had 20 years in the army to prepare myself for that and was a bit more mature and had been through training and exercises, so in some ways had been desensitised whereas young people are experiencing that much more often,” Mr Power said.

“They may have been in the army for six months or 12 months before they are deployed and we are asking a hell of a lot of people...although that is the nature of the business.”

Mr Power will be one of four speakers on Saturday night with Young Diggers Australia president John Jarrett, Rotary Health ambassador Terry Grant and Wodonga psychiatric nurse and TAFE teacher Bryan Winnett also on the bill.

Mr Jarrett oversees Dogs 4 Diggers, a program which involves returned soldiers being matched with canines for therapeutic purposes.

He will bring his own dog, a German shepherd.

Mr Grant will speak of Rotary Health, which is funding doctorates examining mental woes, while Mr Winnett will talk of supporting those struggling to return to work.

Rotary Club of Wodonga West committee member Peter Lee said Lift the Lid was an effort to seriously contribute to mental health awareness.

“Rotary every year, through the Rotary Health, has a mental health day and technically it was the 7th of October where each club did their own thing, some went to meetings where they wore funny hats made donations,” Mr Lee said.

“Our club decided to do something different and we’re having a joint meeting with club and RSL members and going into great depth with what’s happening in mental health.

“As Wodonga and surrounds is quite militarily involved we’re coming at it from a military aspect.”