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Tyson Byrne-Baxter — transitioning to civilian life with a young family to support

Tyson Byrne-BaxterStraight out of school and into the Army

I joined the Army in 2009, straight out of school. I completed Grade 11 at one school before I transferred to a trade school where I did 6 months of a carpentry apprenticeship, but I ended up dropping out to join the Defence Force because that is what I was interested in doing.

When I put down my three preferences for Defence Jobs I listed two Air Force jobs, which were trades, as my first preferences and were aircraft related; and one Army job that I ended up taking because it had an earlier entry date.

Managing my injury

The initial injury happened early on at Kapooka when I was doing my training. It turned out I had a defect in my back which I never knew about and, over time, the high impact training just had a worsening effect on my back. The muscle just kept tearing constantly which left me having back spasms all the time.

I managed my injury throughout my service for three and half years doing all I could with rehabilitation. It would improve for a period of time, but it just kept on getting worse each time I aggravated it. I did all my stretches, and everything I was advised to do by my physiotherapist. I tried to stay on top of it, but no matter what I was doing physically at the time, it was just a recurring injury that wasn’t going to go away.

My Army life was over and that was it

I was pretty devastated because I loved my career, so it was tough. I had a career focus and I wanted to be in service for as long as I could. I felt like I had lost all of that and didn’t really know what I was going to do after service because I didn’t really have a backup plan. I only planned a career within the Army and that was it. I felt lost and I didn’t know what was next.

I was told by my Chief Clerk at my unit to contact DVA to find out what assistance they could offer me to transition into civilian life. I knew DVA existed, however I didn’t know too much about what they could do for me.

I was able to receive support early on with getting my fork lift and truck licence. Initially these were great skills which helped me get my foot in the door with work experience, and ended up being a key factor in securing employment.

I found the biggest challenge with rehabilitation was being honest with myself. Looking back on it, I had no motivation to really do anything and that was hard to overcome. I’d put everything into one basket by joining the Army and when that was taken away, I felt like I had dropped the basket and had nothing much to look forward to.

Setting my own goals

I found Goal Attainment Scaling with my DVA rehabilitation plan to be a really positive experience. When I initially started I was a bit unsure, because I didn’t even know what goals I wanted to achieve or what I wanted to do. Being asked the questions and to put it on paper in terms of what I need to do and what I wanted to do, really helped me plan where I was going. It gave me confidence on what kind of jobs I could look at and how I could get them.

I felt I had more ownership of what I could achieve and really liked the practice of setting my own goals and following them. For example, one of my goals was to increase my fitness which I was able to achieve through yoga because it helped build basic strength around my injury. Another goal I had was to find a job, and I was able to set out the right plan to do this. Being able to set those goals was something I really needed at the time.

I found self-motivation a much better technique than being told by someone else that ‘you need to do this and you need to do that’, which is not really you deciding that you want to do that or you need to do it. By planning what I wanted to do and working out the steps I needed to achieve to reach those goals is probably what got me in the right frame of mind.

Moving from Adelaide to Brisbane

I moved from Adelaide to Brisbane at the start of 2014 because I was offered a truck driver job. About a month into the job I was struggling a bit because of my back injury, the repetitive bending and picking up crates all the time took its toll. Just as DVA was about to close my rehabilitation plan I was unfortunately let go from that job because I just couldn’t maintain the physical aspects of the role anymore.

I was a bit taken back when I lost that job because the main reason I moved was for that job opportunity. Fortunately my parents live in Brisbane, so I had somewhere to stay and DVA were able to re-start my rehabilitation plan.

I was moping around a bit because, to me, it felt like I didn’t have any qualifications. I had everything I did on paper that I did in the Army, but I guess I just felt that it wasn’t going to transfer over to my civilian life. Eventually I worked out that employees do look for the skills that you learn in the Army. I mean, when I started the truck driving, my Army background was an advantage. They expected that because I was in the Army, I was disciplined and would get the job done, which was true. Unfortunately it was just my back injury that held me back.

Unemployed with a baby on the way!

About halfway through my rehabilitation I met my partner. When I met her, I found she was very motivating for me, she became my main support. Obviously not having a job, not knowing what my goals were, I was a bit down. My motivation was my struggle and I think having the support of my partner really helped with that. I was at the stage where I couldn’t find a job after I lost my job as a truck driver.

She really helped me and encouraged me to be more involved with seeking out what DVA could do for me by explaining where I want to go. Then, just after I lost my job, I found out we were having a baby…at the time I was obviously a bit worried being unemployed with a baby on the way. Although I was getting a pension from DVA there was still a lot of uncertainty.

It wasn’t long after that I was still at TAFE finishing a course when my Service Provider contacted me about a 12-week work trial through Queensland Health, which I took up. Things were going well and about a month in they had a vacancy which they hadn’t been successful with filling in the past. Since I was doing well in my role they offered me a one month contract, which was a promotion of sorts. From there it was renewed for a month and then three months and now I have been employed there for over a year.

Managing to getting back to my best

I feel great about managing my injury now. The Service Provider I had in Brisbane through DVA started me doing things I had not done before. I had been doing yoga on the back of my physio’s advice and other stretching exercises I learnt there, which I’ve been able to apply on a daily basis and that has helped my back immensely. At the moment my back is the best it’s ever been. I’m really on top of my injury now and am able to make sure it doesn’t have a huge impact on my everyday life.

While I still have to keep an eye on my back, I’ve found that I’m now able to do gardening and physical jobs around the house and, while it can get sore, I know the warning signs a lot better. When we moved house a few months ago, obviously I used a trolley for the really heavy things, but I was also able to pick up and lift a few things. A few years ago I would have had no chance in doing that because I would have been in too much pain, which shows how much I have improved. Managing it through physiotherapy and yoga was the key for me.

My advice to others in my position is to take advantage of the support that DVA and the Rehabilitation Service Provider can offer you. It took me a long time to realise that they were there to help me and that I wasn’t abandoned because I wasn’t in the Army anymore. My support network was good, not only from DVA and my Service Provider, but also my family. Out of all that, my family are closer than ever and that is the best thing.

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