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'End stigma of servicemen seeking help'

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October 10, 2017

Former AusAID worker David Savage has spoken at a World Mental Health Day event in Canberra.

David Savage remembers the sunny day in 2012 he was blasted 10 metres into the air and filled with 64 ball-bearing pellets by a 12-year-old suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

The AusAID worker was walking back to his base when the boy detonated a suicide vest under his white robes a few metres away, causing multiple life-changing injuries - both physical and mental - from the multiple shrapnel wounds.

"They entered every part of his body except for his right arm," Soldier On CEO John Bale told a gathering with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the charity's headquarters in Canberra on Tuesday.

Mr Savage, a former federal police agent, had been meeting with the district governor ahead of a high-level visit by Australian military officials the next day, and was about 70 metres from the base's gate.

"My injuries from the blast were both life changing and permanent," he explained.

He suffered severe respiratory failure twice, a traumatic brain injury, a broken leg, arm and spine, as well as loss of hearing and eyesight.

The head of trauma at Sydney's St Vincent's hospital compared Mr Savage's wounds to being shot eight times with a shotgun.

After learning to walk again, the movement of shrapnel lodged in his spine paralysed his right leg two years ago, leaving him wheelchair-bound.

Mr Savage told his story as Soldier On announced its work will now encompass those who work alongside defence force members - federal police, border force officers and diplomats.

"To be honest, DFAT and AusAID have been quite disappointing in their response to my incident because they didn't understand how to deal with it," he said.

Despite previously travelling the world with his work for the United Nations, Mr Savage became introverted and afraid when he returned home, not wanting to pick up the telephone or visit supermarkets.

He spoke of how other attendees at his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder program often participate while on their holidays because they don't want their employers knowing about their struggles.

"We have to end this stigma around seeking help and we have to end it now," he said.

Marking World Mental Health Day, Mr Turnbull said Mr Savage, like many others like him, deserves Australia's support, acknowledgement and love.

The prime minister said he had come to know about today's serving generation through his son-in-law James, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Sitting around a table with them at the North Bondi RSL, I began to understand more of what it's like to come back and build a post-service life," Mr Turnbull said.

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