I was conscripted in the first intake of 1965 but deferred until 2 February 1966 to complete my first year of teaching. The children’s year was not disrupted but my part-time psychology studies certainly were as my ambition was to become an educational psychologist.
At the first pre-entry medical assessment I acknowledged , wrote of, problems with my flat feet and ankles – constant sprains and damage. The examining Doctor also noted these and referred to soft tissue damage. However I was considered fit for service. All of this is recorded in my Service Medical Records.
On arrival at Puckapunyal at the next medical assessment there was again concern about my feet and ankles and X-rays were ordered, from multiple angles, but again I was deemed fit for service. The records verify this.
Of course the recruit training, marching, PE etc put strain upon my feet but I endured it. Then the bulk of my service was spent in Papua New Guinea where I was based with the Second Pacific Island Regiment [2PIR] at Wewak [Moem Barracks] and Vanimo in the Sepik District very close to the Irian Jaya [West Papua] border. I was attached to a Company as an Education Instructor but whenever they went on deep inland armed border patrols, there I also went. Thick jungle patrols, mountains, swamps where I waded on bamboo planks in thigh deep water. My feet deteriorated.
What I did not do was report this to the 2PIR Medical Doctor. In hindsight I should have done so, but it was certainly not encouraged. I just pushed on.
On discharge, and I remember these comments as though it was yesterday, the Doctor [who did not record this] said: “How on earth did you get into the Army with feet like that?”, adding “You’re going to have a lot of trouble with feet like that when you get older.”
He added that I should seek compensation but what a waste of time that was. I contacted the RSL and spoke to some kind of advocate. When it was clear that I was not a Vietnam Veteran the level of interest dropped to zero!!
However, at the ripe old age of 23 and because of the discharging Dr’s assessment, I lodged a claim. The paperwork was a nightmare and the response prompt. “Claim rejected.”
From there, over the decades, my foot problems grew. I developed bilateral tarsal tunnel syndrome [TTS] and still have it. This is a compression of the nerves in the feet [like carpal tunnel in the wrists.] It results in nerve pain, burning and difficulty in walking. The burning sensations are there even at night in bed. Orthotics were of little help.
In 2001 I saw an orthopaedic surgeon who specialised in foot and ankle problems. I had a surgery called “tarsal tunnel release” of my left ankle where an incision [about 15cm] was made on the side of my left ankle and an attempt made to free up the nerves, hoping to remedy the pain. It failed. Three days after surgery, at home in a wheelchair, the sutures broke and the wound completely opened. It was re-stitched with no other internal work.
Over the years 1968-2001 I rarely mentioned my TTS to GPs and sought the advice of podiatrists. Mistake!
Walking became increasingly difficult although I did force myself to do so, as a fitness measure – and I could still swim.
Over this time nobody had ever mentioned a White Card to me. I did not know they existed.
Then, in about 2019, a senior ex-serviceman told me of the White Card and I applied for compensation. He put me in touch with a Level 3 Advocate and I entered the compensation endurance trail.
DVA rejected my claim as, in their eyes, I did not have continuous medical records of my feet condition and, to top it off, they felt on the “balance of probabilities” that my problems were developmental. i.e.: I could not name and date a specific Army “event” that caused the problem and the problems would probably have resulted even had I not been conscripted. Compassion at it’s best! I appealed, and again was rejected. Any further appeal would have had to go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and at my expense.
Next: In March 2022 my left Achilles tendon completely ruptured one day when I simply sat down on a bed. At first I thought this was another sprain but there must have been a tear there which was on it’s last “legs”. A foot surgeon suggested surgery may not be wise due to other medical conditions, poorer circulation as an older man, the risk of infection, a year of recovery and the risk of a re-rupture. The cause? Wear and tear, flat feet and Army service.
So, I know walk/limp/hobble short distances with a foot and calf splint/brace. Sometimes with a walking stick. Pain killers. Ice packs in bed at night.
PS: In the tropical climate of PNG, where the daily uniform was heavily starched shorts, I and many others developed chronic tinea cruris [tinea of the groin] which we called “crutch rot”. I did go to the 2PIR doctor about this and it is in my army records. I and others treated it with a purple solution [Castellani’s Paint] prescribed by the Dr and given a brief reprieve from the starch. I still have this condition and it is occasionally in my GP notes.
Today there are better anti-fungal treatments. And again I rarely mentioned the tinea to my GPs as the anti-fungal ointments, powders and sprays are available over-the-counter and without prescription.
I applied to DVA for compensation for the tinea and was rejected again. So was an appeal. Insufficient continuous medical records!! And no consideration of the fact that, as a teacher, psychologist and school Principal I had moved around WA quite a lot from 1968 until retirement; I had several GPs; and they did not, especially in the early days, keep continuous digital notes. Some have retired.
So, again, I was not believed.
I had 2 years of my life taken from me at a time when I could not vote or drink… I was taken in a raffle.
Now I’m 78… a forgotten Nasho.