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Mother tells veterans' suicide inquiry her ill son was labelled a malingerer

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The mother of a 21-year-old army private who suicided in 2014 broke down as she gave evidence to a royal commission describing how her son suffered “endless torment” by his chain of command.

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Nikki Jamieson said her son, Private Daniel Garforth, had been left “catatonic” by the bullying and belittling from several of his leaders. But his complaints had all been dismissed as unsubstantiated, despite witnesses backing his accounts.

Ms Jamieson on Monday apologised in advance that she would be reduced “a blubbery snotty mess” as she recalled her son as a “very cheeky chappy … very much a class clown” who had been thrilled and proud to join the army aged 19.

Her son’s loyalty to his defence tribe had ultimately been his “Achilles heel”, adding to his distress when the army refused to acknowledge his pain and dismissed him as a “malingerer”, she said.

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

“The worst possible form of threat was to be called a malingerer and he was threatened with that instead of being offered support.”

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was told Daniel’s mental health started to decline when he was posted to the army recruit centre Kapooka.

Jamieson said his pressures included “not being able to see his daughter, online relationship stresses, feeling isolated from his family and his friends and his support network … (and) the endless torment of being bulled, belittled and traumatised by various members of his command”.

There had been numerous red flags her son was in serious trouble, but at no point did the army contact her or any external organisations for help, she said.

“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.”

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 the pain.

Jamieson has been a driving force, calling for the royal commission, telling Monday’s hearing that the parents of defence members who had suicided “are standing here today because our children are no longer able to”.

“We are the ones who raised these beautiful human beings,” she said.

“A photo and a few artefacts is all I have left.”

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

She said the archaic indoctrination and training and techniques defence culture was a “huge problem” in the defence force.

“We know many things need to change … we are not dealing with the same kind of people we were in the 1920s and 30s.”

Earlier in the day senior counsel assisting the commission, Kevin O’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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