Pilot outreach program rejected
A PROPOSAL for a pilot outreach program to help veterans affected by antimalarial drugs has been rejected, with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs saying existing support services are adequate.
The decision has angered veterans who participated in controversial ADF sanctioned mefloquine and tafenoquine trials, and their families, some of whom are caring for those with mental health issues.
They now want to meet with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has previously committed to tackling veteran suicides, an issue linked to the use of the drugs.
Lavina Salter, whose husband Chris has suffered adverse mental health after taking mefloquine during a deployment to East Timor, said the proposal rejection had left her feeling defeated.
“By their own admission, DVA has said they don’t know the full extent of the number of veterans affected by these drugs so why don’t they do something?” she said.
“We will keep trying because we can’t give up on these guys.”
The Quinoline Veterans and Families Association submitted a proposal to Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan in December for a first-of-its-kind Veterans Outreach Program. The initial budget was $2.25 million per annum for an initial period of five years.
The program would include new research, the identification of all personnel administered mefloquine or tafenoquine during their ADF service and assist affected individuals.
QVFA co-convenor Major Stuart McCarthy, who was prescribed both mefloquine and tafenoquine by the ADF, said rejecting the program was “indefensible” because existing services were clearly not adequate.
“I can accept that Dan Tehan wouldn’t necessarily have signed up to the proposal straight away, but to come back with a blunt no and to not enter into further discussion or dialogue is unacceptable,” he said.
“We have made repeated efforts to engage with DVA and work with them to develop health outreach both for veterans and their families and that’s why we did the proposal because those needs are not being met.
“It’s really time now for the Prime Minister to provide leadership on this, because the departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs have completely failed.”
In a short statement, Mr Tehan told the Bulletin yesterday he believed the Federal Government was already responding to concerns about the use of mefloquine by the ADF.
“The existing services and additional support the Government has implemented are meeting the needs of the ex-service community concerned,” he said.