Inquiry told of 'dark side' to military

Nikki Jamieson has told of the
Nikki Jamieson has told of the "endless torment" her army recruit son suffered ahead of his suicide.

The marginalisation of defence personnel who don't fit a 'warrior' stereotype has been at the heart of evidence presented to a royal commission into veteran suicide.

In its first day of public hearings on Monday, a panel of experts told the commission "lazy leadership" in defence had encouraged alienation of anyone in the service who was struggling, or somehow different, including women.

Sociologist James O'Connor said turning the tribe on one of their own was a practice used to encourage ferocious group loyalties, based on the belief that it improved "combat effectiveness". But it had a devastating impact on the target.

"The desperate dark side of that is ... this idea that you don't rat on fellow soldiers, you don't go jack," Mr O'Connor said.

"What this means is most things stay in house. It becomes impossible for the victim to speak out and that leaves them in a deeply vulnerable space."

Veteran and sociologist Ben Wadham told the commission that when entering the service, recruits had to "renounce their identity" and enter a "very masculine, insular" world.

He said while there were many positives to living in such a strongly bonded community, "if you fall on the wrong side of it, it comes crashing down on you".

"There's a dark side to the military ... it's often portrayed as a few bad apples but indeed it's a systemic part of the military system," Assoc Prof Wadham said.

Zac E. Seidler, a clinical psychologist at Melbourne University, said repeated inquiries had failed to make a dent in the defence force culture.

"The stripping away of identity must change," he said.

"We don't need to create these warriors that are devoid of emotionality."

Commissioners also heard evidence from Nikki Jamieson, the mother of a 21-year-old army private who suicided in 2014.

She said her son, Private Daniel Garforth, joined the army as 19-year-old, a "very cheeky chappy ... very much a class clown".

He suffered "endless torment" when he was targeted by members of his chain of command, but his loyalty to his defence tribe, she said, had ultimately been his "Achilles heel".

It added to his distress when the army later turned on him, dismissing his bullying complaints and casting him as a "malingerer".

"These feelings of betrayal ... spiralled his mental health further ... heightened his feelings of guilt and shame at not being good enough."

There had been numerous red flags Mr Garforth was in serious trouble but at no point did the army contact his family or any external organisations for help, the commission was told.

"He was described as catatonic by the very chain of command that was threatening him ... he told people he was fearful of going to work, he was withdrawing from friends and colleagues," Ms Jamieson said.

A day before his suicide Daniel punched a wall in a fit of rage and had to be taken to hospital.

In his suicide note the next day he said he could no longer bear being ridiculed.

Since her son's death Ms Jamieson has become a suicidologist and expert on moral injury and suicide in the defence community.

She said the archaic indoctrination and training was a "huge problem" in the defence force.

Earlier in the day senior counsel assisting the commission, Kevin Connor SC, said the true rate of suicide among serving defence members and veterans is likely to be higher than surveys reported by the Department of Defence and Veterans' Affairs.

The royal commission is due to produce an interim report by August 11 next year and a final report by June 15, 2023.

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Australian Associated Press