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Chris Pooley — Find your direction

A man sitting down at a desk, next to a desktop computer, wearing black pants and a blue buttoned-up business shirt. There are photos of houses behind the man.

Chris Pooley

My service highlight

I joined the Army on 21 March 2000. I did a trip to Rifle Company Butterworth in Malaysia for a three-month training exercise. We had a really good OC [officer commanding] and he gave us a bit of time off. So we got to tour around South East Asia. We had a lot of fun. I learnt to use some weapons I hadn't been able to use in Australia, I learnt how to use a Mag 58 and 84 Carl Gustaf. It was the first time I'd also worked with soldiers from other countries. We worked with the Malaysian Rangers.

Transitioning out after 15 years

I transitioned out of Defence at the end of 2015, and it was due to my back. I broke my back about three years prior, and it just wouldn't heal. I got really well looked after. I was given every opportunity, actually more than every opportunity to rate as suitable for service. I was eventually downgraded to not suitable for service and I decided I wasn't going to fight the ruling. I was very quickly put in contact with a rehabilitation provider company who work with DVA, to manage my transition and everything was just really smooth. I was still in the Army when I was put in contact with the consultant and she started the processes to make sure that by the time I got out, everything was in place.

Once the decision was made and started happening, it took a lot of the apprehension away from getting out. I knew my life wasn't going to end, and I wasn't just going to sit on the couch. I knew that I had a place to go moving forward, that I was going to get looked after. So I felt pretty good. I had a young daughter as well and that helped. So I had to work for her.

Positive rehabilitation experience

I've gotten everything I asked for. When I first asked to do the building design course it was a bit of a can we, can't we. We will just apply for it and see how we go. They said yes, you can study and I knew that was happening very soon after I discharged, I was quite happy. I went straight from discharging in November, accepted for the course in December to starting my course in January. So it was basically straight out of Army into TAFE. There was no real break. I had Christmas holidays then I was at school. That was really positive for me because I didn't spend a lot of time wondering what am I going to do with my life, I knew the direction I was going, and I was getting income support. So, everything was set. I knew I had a career that would move me forward.

Working on behalf of DVA with my best interests at heart, my case manager was very proactive in keeping me moving and not letting me go idle. That worked perfectly for me because I am not the kind of person who can sit and wait, I want to know what's going to happen 10 minutes ago, let alone in two months, three months, a year.

So I started off with a case manager, she was fantastic and then I was transferred to a rehabilitation provider. In that area I got a part time case manager, and she was a clinical psychologist, she could quickly pick up peoples' personalities and needs and wants. She's the one who did the vocational assessment. So I think that, everyone who I have spoken to since I got out, who were like how did you know what to do, I say ask DVA if you can do a vocational assessment. I think that was the best thing for me. I would never have considered being a draftsman. Like when I used to think of draftsman, I used to think of a five-year university degree in architecture.

I'm now working full-time at Wilson Homes, a large builder in Hobart and across all of Tasmania. I'm pretty much just like any other employee but Wilson Homes is part of a bigger group, the McDonald Jones Homes Group so they employ over 500 people so they have their own support systems in place that can cater for individual needs. When I first started working there, I got DVA to help me out with occupational therapy devices for the office and Wilson Homes are very accommodating in that I had a special need and they helped me meet those requirements.

Advice for other veterans – ask!

Don't be scared to ask if there is things you need. Or if there is a particular job you want to do, or even if you don't know what you want to do, ask for a vocational assessment. I think that's a big one. All of my mates that are thinking about getting out are ambiguous about what they might want to do. I say ask DVA if you can get a vocational assessment done. And don't go online and just do some online assessment, get one done by a professional who can properly analyse the results. Because it can point them in the right direction, it can give you a goal.

I think in the Army, we work towards our next promotion. Or we work towards training for a deployment. So we are goal-orientated people. You have to be to succeed there. Vocational assessment can just give you that goal. Apart from that, I mean that's for people who want to work, and for people who don't want to work if you need something, or something is not working, use your voice and ask for help.

Getting used to a civilian workplace

One of the biggest challenges was trying to prove that as a middle-aged male, ex-defence, that I could follow orders and be a team player. They wanted to hire a team player. That was a big challenge, trying to prove that I could work as part of the team, value add when needed but not try and take my boss's job. I got a really good workplace because it's quite large and I've actually commented to my friends as to just how similar to the Army it is in the way they do business. In the Army, we have orders in the morning. Here we call them huddles but they are the same thing. The team gets together and talks about our goals for the day, our goals for the rest of the week and that is exactly what we did in the Army.

DVA helped me with work experience so I had some industry experience which helped me find a job in the end. I did work experience with a couple of building design firms as a draftsman who were sole operators and I didn't really thrive there, like I am where I am now. The work experience helped me know what kind of company I wanted to work for. I knew I wanted to work for a company that had an office I could go to, sit at a desk that's allocated to me.

Greatest work achievement post discharge

My first building application for a house in Hobart, actually in Glenorchy.

It takes a couple of days to do a building application, but as a drafter you might only do one or two bits of it. But this particular job, it just so happened that every time it came around to the next phase of the job, it came around to me. So worked for this job from siting a house on the block, right the way through to getting approvals from council. That's a lot of work, that's a lot of hours of work. And that will go up from construction later this year.

Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS), is a national mental health service that provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling, group programs, and suicide prevention training for current and ex-serving ADF members, and their family. To get support, or to find out more, call 1800 011 046 or visit Open Arms.

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