Aussie army widow Madonna Paul says she has endured many “cruel and inhumane” acts by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs since the suicide of her husband Michael.
Among the stings is a “bizarre law” triggered by her husband’s suicide which sees her pension docked $500 a week, a royal commission has been told.
At last count, Ms Paul said she had paid about $220,000 to the department. It exceeds the $130,000 compensation payment she received following Michael’s 2004 death, leaving her to live on “next to nothing”.
She told the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on Monday that at no stage was she ever warned that by accepting compensation she would be forced to make “offsetting” payments “in perpetuity”.
The reason for the payment remained a mystery to her and attempts to get an explanation had been either dismissed or ignored, she said.
“I actually said to them ‘you’ve made an error because I’ve done the simple math and I’ve already paid this back. Why is it still being deducted?'” Ms Paul told the inquiry.
“She (a department officer) sort of scoffed and she just said, ‘It is perpetual. You will be doing this for the rest of your life’.”
Ms Paul told the inquiry her husband had been a popular, “fun loving guy” and a good father when he joined the army in 1984.
That changed after he started training as an aircraft fitter and became increasingly distressed working on the Nomad aircraft, which were nicknamed the ‘widow maker’ based on their safety record.
“He would come home and he would say, ‘this aircraft is dangerous, it shouldn’t be in the air’,” Ms Paul said.
When he raised concerns with superiors he was told “shut up, sign them up and do your job or we will look at a court martial”, she said.
The inquiry was told Michael Paul never recovered after a Nomad he worked on crashed in northern NSW in 1991, killing three pilots and a fitter, a close friend.
Ms Paul said there had been no real understanding about PTSD at the time and she watched as her husband spiralled into a dark depression which made him violent and erratic.
She said the impact on her two young sons had also been devastating, with one of them twice attempting suicide.
National Mental Health Commissioner Alan Woodward told the hearing earlier on Monday the defence culture was a “powerful force” which still appeared to reinforce a myth that it was weak or unmanly to ask for help when in distress.
The royal commission hearing continues in Hobart on Tuesday. An interim report, due on Thursday, will include urgent recommendations, ahead of a final report due by June 2024.