“Matt did not break because he went to Afghanistan and Iraq. Matt broke because he would never be able to go back there again. That’s a really powerful statement that people need to understand.”
This is a story about bravery, pain and H.O.P.E. An Australian Cavalry Commander who, after being successfully deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq to serve for his country, was injured in a life-changing accident during a training session on home soil. The book titled My Broken Soldier, which was initially written from a place of revenge and anger (not suitable for public reading), has now morphed into a raw and emotional tool to help stop Mental Health from being dirty words. This couple are now focused on highlighting their mistakes for others to learn from and are committed to making it easier for defence families to find support.
As a Cavalry Commander, Matt was responsible for armoured vehicle movements and his accident happened while he was deployed on a training exercise. The driver ended up in a dry riverbed, while conducting a simple night move and Matt was slammed up against the weapon station, hung up with all the equipment. When Matt went to disembark from the vehicle, his legs went from underneath him.
Matt ended up in a Military Hospital for overnight ops and a CAT Scan was the best equipment available for diagnosis. After spending one to two days in limbo, during which time he had received his key deliverables, Matt was keen to go back and continue the job as he wasn’t doing anything functional in hospital – regardless of the pink discharge draining from his nose which he was later told was most likely spinal fluid, or brain fluid. The pain of chronic headaches and whiplash was managed with whatever medication he could pick up from inside the organisation.
Right from the beginning, none of the correct medical assessments for a brain injury were adhered to and this comedy of errors continued for a seven-month period post-accident.
Have you read: Are You Born with Resilience? – Andrew Paton-Smith
Putting pen to paper is what helped Matt’s wife, Karen, let go of the anger. Being diagnosed with a brain trauma induced epilepsy meant her Broken Soldier was unable to continue doing what he loved – being an elite soldier. Karen continued working, which included business travel across countries, to support their family as they received no support from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) or Defence and they were haemorrhaging financially.
Family life was very faced-paced and Matt regularly turned into a ‘hot mess’, hiding in his bedroom for days on end or even going for unexplained walkabouts; periods when Karen didn’t know if he would return home. Matt had no preparation for what life was going to be like on the other side and this was how he dealt with loss of identity with no support group.
There were really bad days and there were really horrific days, including bouts of verbal violence and, until recently, Matt didn’t quite understand how nasty he could come across when he was in pain. These days were mentally, psychologically and emotionally taxing for Karen and, on top of it all, she was constantly in protection mode to buffer their children.
Have you read: Leading in a World of Change – Sam Sooialo
Karen’s ethos in life is H.O.P.E. – Help One Person Everyday. Neither Karen nor Matt are anti Defence Force in fact, they are determined to help create change because our country needs an Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). We just need them to be better than they are today.
Together they are creating a space that allows defence families to start networking and working together and are determined to support families to successfully assimilate back into the civilian world.
This confronting story of resilience is shared on The Culture of Leadership (TCoT) Podcast for both defence and civilian families who are dealing with adult mental health. It has such a positive ending although, one can’t help thinking that this story is in fact Matt and Karen’s new beginning…