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Simon Mills – Get it right, get it sorted, and get on with your life

Middle aged man in white shirt that has "Tour de Legacy Canberra - Adelaide 2005" slogan.

I was in the Australian Army, both Regular and Reserves. I joined the Australian Regular Army in 1982, when I was 20, and I left in 1988. I went straight from full time army at Keswick Barracks to 8 Transport Squadron Warradale, which is the Reserve element. I did a year in Reserves, then I had a five year break. I was struggling to understand how the Reserves worked compared to the Regular Army as there was a big difference. I was missing the military lifestyle so much I went back in 1993. I found I could have the best of both worlds, service and civilian, and still be at home most nights. The Reserves gave me that.

The reason I went from Regular to Reserves was family. Coming from a field force Squadron, 1st transport squadron at Holsworthy, I would be away nine months of the year. Quite often after long periods away from home once we had returned to the unit someone's wife had taken the family back to their home state. It’s not a great lifestyle for a family unit and having come from a family where I didn’t know my father because of the same reason I wasn’t going to do the same thing to my kids. It was as easy as that.

Are you working at present?

I’ve got a casual job and I’ve got a contract job. I’m a ministerial chauffeur and I’ve been doing that now on a casual basis for three years. If I’m not doing that, I’m a driver trainer for the Australian Driving Institute, that’s the contract work. I’m still on incapacity payments for my shoulder so I have top up payments from DVA when I have no income from my other jobs. It’s a good life balance at the moment but I’m hoping to get full time work with one of my current jobs.

What has been your experience with DVA?

DVA’s support is fantastic, they came and saw us before we went on deployment and gave us an outline and said if you have anything outstanding, put in your claims. They were terrific. I tore my shoulder in 2007 on Operation Resolute then I went to the Solomons in 2012 and I came back and I went back to work and I found that I was struggling doing some motions. So I thought maybe I should get this looked at now. I went and saw the doctor and they referred me to my specialist, and he referred me to get a scan, and within two weeks I was under the knife and getting fixed. Financially I was never out of pocket. It was a strange feeling to have so much support. Here were these people who just wanted nothing but the best for me. It was pretty hard to understand but fantastic once you get your head around it and you understand what needs to be done.

Do you feel like you have received adequate support from DVA with respect to your rehabilitation?

Absolutely, I can’t fault them. Fortunately I had the correct paperwork in place. I was surprised, because you hear the horror stories, how people feel like they have been screwed through the system and then you talk to a lot of people who have had an injury and they say the same as me. Within two or three weeks you’re under the knife and getting fixed.  And then you’re on incapacity payments so you’re not missing out at all in any way.

Can you describe some of the challenges you have faced while going through the rehabilitation process?

Well, there’s the physical challenge because those early days required lots of hard work. It will bring a tear to your eye working through that pain. I think the biggest challenge I had was wanting to get better as quick as possible so I could go back to work.  Probably the hardest thing was getting interviews because I was over 50 and was sending out resumes everywhere and there were no bites at all. The only reason I got the chauffeur job was because my son said “Dad why don’t you apply for this one in the paper”. I got my rehab consultant to help me put a resume together. Luckily I did drive Brigadiers when I was in the Army so I had a bit of VIP driving and I’ve got a good driving record. So that got my foot in the door with the State Government as a driver, which is a good thing.

If there is one piece of advice you’d give someone transitioning or discharging what would it be, so that they get the support they need from DVA?

Get a copy of all of your medical documents while you are still in, because you can just copy them. If they are medically discharging, make sure all the forms are given to them by their chief. Then they should fill out those forms to the best of their knowledge. Put all your claims in if you’ve got any claims. Start the processing period on what you have, and don’t panic, let the system work.

Get yourself an advocate to help you. I’ve helped a couple of mates with their stuff, which I was quite proud of because I had the knowledge. For some reason they seem to think it’s going to be difficult and yes it can be because there is a lot of paperwork and a lot of reading to do, but that is what the advocate is for.

I don’t know how you would get any more out of rehabilitation than they already offer you, because of my rehabilitation plan I go to the physio when I need to and I currently get a guaranteed wage, which will be reviewed in the future. So, you can’t ask for anything more. No one else does this. I don’t think you can get any more out of it but you should get what you are entitled too. If you have an operation like I did, you should get your rehabilitation plan, you should get the people to help you with all your questions. The tools are there. Advocate, return to work people like I have in Adelaide, and ring DVA. You can go into Blackburn House [DVA’s South Australia office at 199 Grenfell Street, Adelaide] and ask them a question over the counter and they will bend over backwards for you. You won’t get any better support anywhere else.

If there is one thing that benefited you through your rehabilitation journey, what would it be and why?

Peace of mind. The fact that I didn’t have to worry about money coming in to keep my house and to keep my lifestyle. You have to embrace the recovery. Make the most of it. Do what you are told with the recovery. Get it right, get it sorted, get on with your life and move along.

What have you done since you last spoke to DVA?

I was chauffeuring when I last spoke with them. Since then, I’ve been medically discharged, because I was still in the Reserves when we did the last interview. I hurt my back for the last time out bush. The discharge process pretty much started ten months after that because I just couldn’t do Army anymore. 

I ride a push bike now and the shop that I was riding with, they got asked to donate a bike to legacy as a raffle. So the word got out that they were doing this bike ride from Canberra to Adelaide. 1100kms over ten days, and Australian cyclist Stuart O’Grady was going to be the head rider and Legacy’s Patron for the event.

This year I took part in the Tour de Legacy, from London to Amiens in November and it is getting fully documented. I was talking to the guy who is doing the documentary and I just wanted to quiz him on his knowledge of the battlefields because I wanted to know how much he knew. If we don’t stop at the right places, like Cobbers Statue (sculpture) and VC corner and other places I will not be happy because what’s the point otherwise? He was pretty boggled with my knowledge about Ypres, about Menin Gate, about Vimy Ridge, about the Villers-Bretonneux, school, which has ‘We will never forget Australia’ written across the courtyard. So I think I’m going to be a point of call.

I just want to add that, although your service may have left you broken, that's not the end. There is great help for you out there it's just a matter of finding the best person for your needs. The future opportunities are worth grasping when they come along.

Our time in defence of our country made us resilient, use your skills.

Cheers Simon Mills

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