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Tom Pulleine — having clear goals for life after service

From recruit to my first tour in 2 years

I joined the Army in September 1997. When I joined I didn't really know what I wanted to do, I originally went to join the Navy but no Navy recruiter came out! I then watched a video on the Army and thought "that looks good", and I joined. I went off to Kapooka and then to Singleton joining the 2nd Battalion. I did my first tour with them in 1999 to East Timor, and then joined 3RAR (3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment) where I stayed for nine years.

I did a second and third tour in East Timor in 2002 and 2008. I've also been to the Solomon Islands twice in 2005 and 2006 and then Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

Tom PulleineMy injuries were taking a toll

There was a parachuting accident in 2004, where I had damaged my spine. At the time it wasn't really picked up, it was just a bad landing. I continued my duties and went back overseas quite a bit, and wearing things like body armour did me no favours, which also did some damage to my thoracic and lumbar spine.

In 2009 I started playing rugby again and I got hit one day, but didn't think much of it. My partner was driving me to Sydney afterwards and I turned to her and said ‘I think I'm having a stroke'. The right side of my body just started to go. It wasn't a stroke, my right disc had collapsed and cut through the nerve on the right side of my body.

Realistically I knew that it was only a matter of time before I was going to be medically discharged. You can't have that many injuries and be 100% fit, so it was inevitable that it was going that way. I knew at that time that I needed to start thinking about doing something on the outside, even though I knew DVA and ComSuper would provide some assistance due to my injuries.

Putting the targets down and patching out

I was medically discharged mainly due to severe knee problems (I've had nine knee operations). I also had a slipped disc and a cervical laminectomy that stopped the right side of my body from functioning properly. On top of that I was diagnosed with a thing called Bell's palsy, which is a form of facial paralysis. I was also diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety, I then knew it was time. So I put the targets down and I patched out from my military career.

I felt a lot of grief at first that I was going to lose so much. Also with that comes the uncertainty of what you are going to do next. When you discharge you lose that much more, your mates are a luxury in the ADF, because everyone is your mate, you've got that uniform on. Whereas outside of the ADF, you go to work and people are transient.

I waited too long to claim for my injuries

A challenge I faced I think was similar to most soldiers, in that I expected everything to be done at once and when it wasn't I blamed DVA. So my expectations about the time it would take to resolve all my claims, was one of the biggest challenges for me. Not knowing what the rest of my life was going to look like was another thing that weighed heavily on me. It's daunting because you are not going to be what you were before. It's the new you…and you have got to plan the new you out.

I always knew DVA was there. The things I did wrong with DVA was that I waited too long to put my claims in. In June 2013 I probably knew that I was going to be medically discharged but I didn't bother doing my forms until June 2014. My DVA claim was done within 12 months, all my conditions were accepted before I discharged and everything was finalised in June 2015.

What I should have done in hindsight is gone through the DVA process every time an injury happened. It's obviously a lot simpler than putting in 17 claims all at once. It made the system complicated for DVA, which further complicated things for me.

Having a clear goal for my future

I was very isolated when I discharged and that's where the support from my DVA rehabilitation coordinator and service provider were important, because they helped me map out the process and set my goals. Having a clear goal is vital, having an idea of where you need to be, what you need to survive financially, all made my life a little bit better. My veterans' advocate was also very supportive, making sure I had all my paperwork in order and that took away a lot of the stress.

My partner was a fantastic source of support and I had some really close mates who would check up on me often. I still have that support network from my service that has continued since discharge for which I'm thankful. I've also got three children, from my previous marriage, who are great as well as my ex-wife. Being away from home during my first marriage, and my dramas with PTSD, caused a lot of stress and affected that relationship. Fortunately we are still close and, in fact, we even holiday together when we can, so I'm very lucky.

Rehab Plan = (A) Get myself better and (B) Return to work

Upon discharge I had to look at what I needed to do in order to return to work. DVA provided me with a rehabilitation coordinator and together we mapped out a plan of what we needed to do. At the time I had Bell's palsy pretty bad, so my service provider was very sympathetic to that and just advised me to take my time and get myself right.

Once I was able to do that, the first thing I did was look at the qualifications I received inside Defence and what I could transfer to the civilian sector. We worked on my physical injuries first, to get myself to a level where I would be able to return to work, as well as identifying what qualifications I would need in preparation for when I would feel ready to return to work. That way I felt I would have a better options and be able to choose what I wanted to do when I was ready. So essentially I wanted to A. Get myself better and B. Return to work.

The importance of being mentally prepared

One of the things I had to take into account was my mental health. With depression, I think it helps if you are doing stuff. Sitting at home getting a pension I don't think really helped me personally. For some people that may be of help, but I think mapping out where to from here and setting myself personal goals was very important. I needed to get myself not only physically right for returning to work but, just as importantly, mentally right as well.

I reached the point where I was getting bored at home and my partner looked at me and said ‘I think it is probably time now that you can go to work'. So I looked at available jobs which I could do based on my qualifications and that I thought I might enjoy.

Recognition of prior learning in service

DVA helped me obtain qualifications through the RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) process. I was able to gain four different qualifications — Community Services, a Diploma in Leadership Management, Work Health & Safety and Business Training and Assessment.

I found the process for study quite simple, both my rehabilitation coordinator and service provider were able to assist with most of the process. After that it was me working with my service provider in completing some forms and providing evidence on how I would be able to complete the certificates I was after.

Through the RPL system, I was able to map out all of the courses I had completed over my 17 years of service, which reduced the amount of assignments and courses I had to do.

Getting a start in the workforce

I felt that I wanted to help the veteran community and give back a little if I could. Homes for Heroes advertised a position and I was able to meet the criteria of the position. It was my first attempt at civilian work since I worked for Pizza Hut as a teenager.

I applied for the job, went through the interview process and after that I was offered the position, which I accepted. It presented me with a good opportunity because I met many veterans that were doing it tough.  I met a particular client who had PTSD and was struggling a lot with drug abuse since his discharge. Being able to help him get his life back on track by encouraging him to participate in other activities was a real challenge; and being able to help him was a great achievement.

It was fantastic to be around people that served in World War II and Korea and Vietnam and hear some of their amazing stories. Being able to help those people is one of the things that I have taken out of that experience.

Starting my own business

After having my start at Homes for Heroes, I've gone on and established my own security company. At the moment I sub contract to security companies and provide security for a variety of venues or even ships. I didn't ask for help from DVA in regards to my qualifications because another security organisation provided it at no charge. Fortunately there are other security organisations out there that assist the veteran community with qualifications, which is really good. Combining these qualifications with my previous study in Business Operations has given me the chance to be my own boss, which I really enjoy.

I believe my other qualifications, such as Work Health & Safety and Community Services, is a big advantage in securing clients. Having that diploma in Leadership Management as well has given me a bit of a cutting edge in getting the contract when it's in the security field.

All of the study I've achieved has put me in the fortunate position where I'm able to pick and choose where I fit best and I've been able to build my portfolio.

It's the new you … and you have got to plan the new you out

As long as I keep things in place with my recovery, take the advice from my various medical specialists and work on all those things together, I'm able to manage my life quite well. It's once I stop doing those things and I become lazy in my rehabilitation, that's when things get bad for me.

My advice to others out there in a similar position would be to plan everything that you intend to do. Set yourself some life goals one to two years into the future. Have a look at what you want to be like and set yourself those goals by mapping out the things you need to do to get there.

Average: 4.5 (14 votes)