Mum’s disgust at email to sick son
You can hear and see the pain in Julie-Ann Finney as the coffin carrying her baby boy is lowered into the ground.
"That sound is me. What you're hearing is anguish," she says over a video recording of the funeral for her son, decorated Navy veteran and father-of-one David Finney.
The footage is hard to watch but important viewing as the nation turns its attention, rightly, to the suicide deaths of nine ADF veterans in the last three weeks - including eight men and one woman aged between 20 and 50.
Ms Finney couldn't bring herself to watch it for months after her son took his own life aged 38, but knows now that it's part of the solution - a hard-hitting look at the reality of life after war and what failure to adequately treat returning servicemen and women can lead to.
She says her son was failed by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affected his health so badly that he asked, explicitly, for help.
"I saw him three days before what he did," the Adelaide-based mum-of-two told news.com.au.
"He lived in Canberra and I lived in Adelaide but I knew he wasn't OK.
"I said, 'I need you to get some help'. He said, 'I've got it sorted, got the doctors appointment sorted'."
Ms Finney urged David's sister to reach out while they waited for professional help. On the phone, the pair laughed for an hour, she recalls.
But that Friday, David took his own life.
What his mother knows about the failure from DVA to treat her son makes her sick.
"My son sent email on October 25, 2018 and said he needed a psychiatrist," she said.
"He got back an email saying no Department of Veterans' Affairs psychiatrists were available in the ACT until the following April.
"He tried to make it through to April but he couldn't."
Under DVA rules, veterans can only receive treatment from doctors approved by the department. To see another doctor would have been at his own cost.
"Had I known that, I would've paid," Ms Finney says. "I really thought DVA were looking after him. I always say to mums, if your child has PTSD, drag him off to someone. Just drag him off."
She said the two years since his death have been driven by a desire to ensure no other veterans suffer what her son did.
"Two years ago I was nothing but a mother. I'm still really grateful that I got to be his mother. But now I'm going to fight for him. I'm not silly enough to think I can bring him back, but I can help other veterans suffering."
Her focus is on the establishment of a Royal Commission into Veterans Suicide - a movement that is gaining traction.
A change.org petition she started has been signed by more than 365,000 people.
"I'm not going to stop until I get a Royal Commission," she tells news.com.au.
In February this year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he would establish a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, but as Ms Finney points out, the position would not provide independent oversight and would not act until a veteran had taken their own life.
"It is an impenetrable wall of people wanting to cover up what's happening," she said.
"My son is going to become a part of data analysis. We don't need data analysis. We need accountability.
"It's a waste of money. We, the parents who are asking for this Royal Commission, … it matters to us. They say they want to listen to us but they don't. The Commissioner is a placating piece of legislation. There's going to be nothing in it for veterans."
Professor Alexander McFarlane from the University of Adelaide is an international expert on the military and veterans' mental health and had been a senior investigator in studies of the health of ADF personnel.
He says the recent report into war crimes in Afghanistan would have been an incredibly challenging reality for former or current soldiers to be confronted with.
"It's the sort of issue that will be very difficult for many members to live with because they've served with honour and given their service in a dedicated manner and, in some ways, their sense of purpose is pulled from under them when they find the reputation of the Defence Force has been undermined by the actions of a few," Professor McFarlane told news.com.au.
Ms Finney says families of ADF veterans who think they might need help should not wait to act.
"People can get quite bogged down by somebody who's not okay," she said.
"They don't want you to talk, they want to tell their story. Please listen. You can't imagine what they're going through.
"If you think a veteran needs urgent help, get them public help or go to a hospital. Do not wait for defence. They are not David. These are real people. These are our children."
To sign Ms Finney's petition to establish a Royal Commission, click here.
Originally published as Mum's disgust at email to sick son