When David Savage, Australia’s first civilian casualty of the Afghanistan War was critically injured, Soldier On CEO and Co-Founder John Bale immediately knew that the organisation had a duty to support those who put themselves on the line for Australia – regardless of what uniform they wear. David spoke to a group of Soldier On supporters this morning around the announcement of Soldier On’s expansion of services.
Read David’s full speech below
When my son Chris, returned from visiting me in the US Military Hospital in Germany, he went to the launch of a new organization – Soldier On. There he met John Bale. On my arrival back in Australia, John came and visited me in hospital offering the support of Soldier On. I am ever so grateful that he did – there is nothing established to assist civilians such as myself.
My injuries from the blast were life changing and permanent. I suffered severe respiratory failure twice, a traumatic brain injury, broken leg, arm, spine, severe nerve damage, loss of hearing and partial loss of sight. The number of ball bearings that struck me caused the head of Trauma at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s to describe it as if I had been shot 8 times with a shotgun. To date I have had over 20 major surgeries. After a year and numerous nerve surgeries, I finally learnt how to walk again. However, two years ago, I had a set-back when some shrapnel in my spine moved, paralysing my right leg.
Apart from my incredible wife Sandy, my support has come from Soldier On, my former Police colleagues and ADF members that I have served side by side with over the years, because they get it! To be honest DFAT, AusAID have been very disappointing in their response to my incident. They have no idea how to support service personnel and families, which they demonstrated by informing my family of the incident over the phone at 11.15pm -something ADF or AFP would never have done.
Prior to joining DFAT and being wounded, I had travelled the world for the UN, hosting, meeting and negotiating with heads of state and INGO’s. Yet after being wounded I became introverted and afraid. I have trouble answering the telephone to friends, and I fear going into a supermarket.
Soldier On has helped me and my family in many ways. Connecting us to other families with similar experiences and ensuring financial disadvantage doesn’t prevent us from participating in social, community and sporting activities. Being injured in service has affected every aspect of our lives. Sandy has had to forego her career and salary to care for me, and our financial position eroded.
Through my Soldier On work I have been able to regain my sense of self worth. I may be unable to button up my shirt, write my name or recall my DOB but I can give back to those who have helped me. By speaking on behalf of Soldier On to raise awareness, necessary funds and to encourage others to come forward to seek assistance – I am able to assist those in the military and my first love – the Police and National Security community.
I, understand how difficult it is to seek help. I, who acknowledge I have PTSD, was shocked when my psychologist suggested that I needed assistance. However, after some thought I attended the PTSD program. Other attendees were from ADF and National Security Agencies -individuals still working and privately seeking assistance during their holidays bcause they didn’t want the shame or consequences of their employers knowing about their struggles.
We have to end this stigma around seeking help.
Mental Health affects more than just the individual, it affects family, friends, work and the community. However it doesn’t need to be the end.
Investing in support services like Soldier On is investing in your people. For me, Soldier On saved my life.
As Arnold H. Glasow says, ” One of the tests of leadership, is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”
Thank you for your time, and listening to me