'I began to wonder if I would be better off ending my life': The invisible war wounds

Since being elected to the Queensland Parliament in 2017, former soldier Brent Mickelberg has advocated for the state's veterans.

Brisbane Times

Lydia Lynch

Buderim MP Brent Mickelberg. Credit: Supplied.

As thousands of Queenslanders step on to their driveways at dawn on Saturday to honour the sacrifices men and women in the armed forces have made abroad, one MP says not to forget the tragedies that unfold when troops return.

For some veterans, the most horrific injuries of war are invisible and can last for years: post-traumatic stress, depression, anger and substance abuse.

Brent Mickelberg, who represents the Sunshine Coast electorate of Buderim, spent 13 years in the Australian Army, serving in Afghanistan and East Timor, as well as taking part in border protection operations.

He also led soldiers during the search-and-rescue operation after the devastating 2011 Grantham floods.

Since being elected to the Queensland Parliament in 2017, he has advocated for the state's veterans and used his maiden speech to Parliament to spotlight mental health issues.

Mr Mickelberg was deployed to Afganistan at the end of 2012 after another officer was wounded, and worked as part of the NATO Special Operations.

His role was predominantly facilitating raid and kinetic strike operations.

 While he says he never felt like he was going to die in the Middle East, he felt vulnerable. And that feeling followed him back to Queensland.

"I cannot speak in detail about my service over in Afghanistan, but some of the things that we saw will stay with me for life: images of children killed by the Taliban, suicide bomb attacks and US soldiers killed by the Afghan soldiers they had been mentoring," he said.

"At home I found it hard to reconnect with [wife] Anna and I found myself yearning to be back in Afghanistan.

Buderim MP Brent Mickelberg in his former role as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Buderim MP Brent Mickelberg in his former role as a soldier in Afghanistan.

"Although I was living with someone who loved and cared for me, I often felt isolated and alone.

The former infantry officer said his anger grew as he suffered nightmares and flashbacks.

"Over time, I began to wonder if I would be better off ending my life so that I would not be a burden to Anna and my family.

"I felt that I was not doing anything to make their lives better, anyway.

"I was seemingly able to rationally think about the fact that it was a stupid thing to consider, but at that point I had worked out how I would do it.

"The only thing stopping me was the hurt that I would inflict on Anna and my family."

Reflecting on the speech he delivered two years ago, Mr Mickelberg said "it was tough".

"It was hard to get the words out," he said.

Platoon Commander Captain Brent Mickelberg briefs troops before a ground search during the 2011 floods.

Platoon Commander Captain Brent Mickelberg briefs troops before a ground search during the 2011 floods.CREDIT:PETTY OFFICER DAMIAN PAWLENKO

"What stood out was the amount of people who reached out afterwards asking for help, even some of my own mates, which was surprising.

 "[Post-traumatic stress disorder] remains a massive issue right across society and everyone is affected in different ways."

Mr Mickelberg said while Anzac Day was a time for reflection of the past, his focus remained on what action could be taken to improve the lives of returning soliders and their families.

Last month he wrote to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk asking for rescue funding for Legacy, a group that has been supporting widows and the dependents of veterans since 1928.

Brent Mickelberg wants Queenslanders to remember the invisible wounds men and women of the armed forces carry with them when they return home.

Brent Mickelberg wants Queenslanders to remember the invisible wounds men and women of the armed forces carry with them when they return home.

"Since its inception, Legacy has been largely supported through donations from the community and from corporate donors," he said in a speech to Parliament on Wednesday night.

"While caring for more than 6700 widows and 250 dependents spread across an area extending from Bowen to Brisbane.

"Due to the impact of the coronavirus directly and resultant cancellation of Anzac Day events, Brisbane Legacy is facing the prospect of a $1.4 million loss in the next 12 months."

 On Thursday morning Ms Palaszczuk announced a $1 million grant for Legacy.

"Anzac Day is steeped in history and tradition and not even a global pandemic will stop us from marking the occasion and honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice to our country," Ms Palaszczuk said.

WWII Private Noel Pilcher is seen during the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane last year. Sadly, there will be no parade this year.

WWII Private Noel Pilcher is seen during the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane last year. Sadly, there will be no parade this year. CREDIT:GLENN HUNT/AAP

Just like churchgoers were able to celebrate Easter with live-streamed services, virtual and nationally televised Anzac Day ceremonies will be available to observe by people at home.

Queenslanders have been asked to light thier driveways, porches and living rooms at 6am.

"And while it might look a little different this year with social distancing restrictions, I believe the Anzac spirit will shine brighter than ever as we light up the dawn together from our driveways at 6am," Ms Palaszczuk said.

Other MPs who have served in the armed forces include Southern Downs MP James Lister, Macalister MP Melissa McMahon and Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Anthony Lynham.


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