My injury and action
I joined the Army in 2003 when I was 17, straight out of high school; I had a boy’s attitude and just wanted to drive tanks. However, my real career progression was going to be a carpenter in the Army.
My discharge out of the Army began when I developed fallen arches in both feet, due to being in a combat core unit and the requirement to “go go go” all the time. The bone in my right foot started to crush my ligaments and I needed emergency surgery. As a result of the surgery I favoured my other foot and not long after during a pack march I suffered with immense pain and required the same surgery on the other foot. I was told I would be able to walk properly in about 2 months but I couldn’t apply any pressure to my feet. I used regular hospital crutches during that time, which then led to problems with my hands and wrists from the pressure put on them. I was fitted with ergonomic crutches which eased the pain. With hopes that the surgery would fix my foot pain, it was quickly realised when I had recovered from the surgery that it hadn’t. I was then diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both feet at just 19 years old.
After my unit was notified of my diagnosis I was not allowed to go back onto the ground with my unit. I started working in the Ordinates Room and had a great mentor who encouraged me to do some training as I was very young and, if I had to leave the Army, would need transferable skills. So I studied payroll and various other computer courses.
A new rule was introduced that all officers who weren’t a level one or two were required to be deployable and I was unable to be deployed due to my injury. That’s when I got in contact with DVA, who assisted in getting my liability claim accepted. I was medically discharged just 18 months after joining the army and with the new skills I had learned from being in the armoured corp and then subsequently payroll I started searching for a career in payroll.
A different path
I was pretty devastated about being medically discharged. I had just been posted to Townsville, had made some really good friends and my now wife; then girlfriend had finally found a job. I’m still disappointed that my fellow solidiers from ¾ CAV got deployed and I didn’t. However I look back now and know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not been injured and discharged. While I was upset then, I realise now that this path was meant to be.
Getting back to work
DVA put me through, what I call, a civilian conversion course which was facilitated by my rehabilitation provider. The course taught me skills for job interviews, how to present myself well to employers, how to use civilian terms and also take the regimental sense out of my personality. I was also supplied with a résumé that deconstructed my military qualifications into civilian terms. It would be a great course for ex military members who have been in the service for a long time. It was one of the best courses I have done in my career.
When I landed my first job working in payroll, DVA organised a workplace assessment for me and an ergonomic chair. I also received special business shoes which fitted my orthotics. I require a walking stick to ease the pressure on my right foot, which is affected the most by the arthritis. An ergonomic walking stick was funded which is moulded to the shape of my hand to avoid any further injury to it.
To this day, 8 years from being discharged, DVA still assist me. Currently we have assistance with household tasks I can’t do easily, due to my injury, by organising someone to mow the grass, garden maintenance and clean the house. I’m a proud person and I like to do things myself but I often aggravate my injury by pushing myself too hard so the household support services I get from DVA are really appreciated and needed. DVA also funded side steps for my four wheel drive to assist with getting in and out of the vehicle.
From Army to CEO
When I was 26 I was in between payroll jobs and my wife encouraged me to start my own payroll business. Three years down the track and the business is now booming. It has been an amazing journey getting to this point because I kind of just fell into payroll and have had to prove that an Army guy can do a civilian job. The discipline I learned from the Army is second to none because it taught me that amongst other things you never give up and that attitude has got me a multi-million dollar company. We currently employ 18 staff and along with myself 3 of them have a disability.
Challenges and support
My wife and her family have been a big support with my ups and downs. I’m in pain everyday but I’ve gotten used to it. Her family pull me up when I do physical things that aggravate my injury. They are always willing to give me a helping hand with physical tasks and although it can be frustrating that I can’t do it myself, I have taught myself to accept the help. I have a 3 year old son Eli. Due to my injury I can’t do things that other 29 year old dads can; so running and kicking a ball at the park are out of the picture. Instead we do other activities together that put as little pressure on my feet as possible like swimming, going to the movies, four wheel driving and camping.
There is life after the military
Although my original career path didn’t go to plan, I am proof that you can still be successful and live a normal fulfilling life regardless of a disability.
Even though every day is a struggle physically and mentally due to pain; I know that my family and I wouldn’t have the lifestyle and successful business we have today if I hadn’t had my injury.
There IS life after the military. Don’t just sit on the couch, letting your circumstances control your life in a negative way. Chin up! Use the skills you learnt during your military service – just use them in a different way to fit in with civilian ways, accept the help and resources offered by organisations like DVA and move on with your civilian life.