Judge laments lack of mental health support for veteran jailed in Qld.

Photo: Chris Finn serving in Afghanistan

By Cloe Read

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs plans to meet with Queensland Corrective Services to address funding for former military personnel now in prison after a judge lambasted numerous system failures brought to light in the case of an Afghanistan veteran.

Christopher James Finn, 35, currently sleeps on a thin mattress on the floor of an overcrowded cell at Woodford Correctional Centre, north of Brisbane, with his head next to a toilet. He has also been forced to join a gang to stay safe.

Finn is serving time for several drug-related offences, which his psychologist says stemmed from his mental illnesses – including complex PTSD, depression and anxiety – after his deployments overseas.

Finn, who grew up in NSW before joining the Australian Army, completed three tours of Afghanistan. He was also deployed to East Timor during his highly commended career. 

During his deployments, however, he saw his hero and commander, Corporal Cameron Baird, shot and killed in front of him in a Taliban compound.

Baird received the VC posthumously for his service in Afghanistan.

Photo: Corporal Cameron Baird, who received the VC posthumously for his service in Afghanistan.

Finn also saw a fellow soldier and mate get blown to pieces after he stepped on a concealed bomb. His friend’s bone fragments had to be surgically removed from Finn’s neck.

On Friday in the Supreme Court, Justice Peter Applegarth sentenced the highly respected soldier to four years in jail for several drug-related offences, including trafficking for seven weeks.

Finn was also serving time for carrying a restricted weapon, which his defence earlier explained was linked to his PTSD and because he felt unsafe.

He will be eligible for parole in January next year.

But since being imprisoned, Finn has had no access to the specialised mental health treatment he needs from his psychologist to help with his PTSD after years of service.

A pre-sentence report provided by Queensland Corrective Services to the court explained the DVA does not provide funding to imprisoned veterans if the prison has appropriate mental health facilities.

The Psychological Services Unit within QCS is for prisoners with a high risk of engaging in chronic self-harm and suicidal behaviour or with other complex behavioural presentations. Finn, who does not meet these criteria, is, therefore, unable to access the unit.

He has, however, tried to join a resilience program that helps prisoners with challenging situations but has been on the waiting list for five months.

While no firm plans have yet been made, QCS and DVA decided at a meeting in February to arrange a subsequent meeting to “explore referral pathways for ex-serving ADF personnel to access DVA-funded health services in custody”.

Applegarth said while the DVA and QCS may work out such a program, there was “no indication when this might ever occur”.

“It seems the current policy or attitude taken is that DVA does not fund mental health support to veterans at Woodford because there are mental health services at that centre, but you do not qualify for them at this time,” Applegarth said.

“In any event, there is no suggestion that prison mental health services can provide the kind of specialised therapy that is required to treat your complex PTSD.

“One would have thought that if they could, they would have been providing it to you by now.”

Applegarth said he trusted further meetings between the departments would expedite mental health help.

“Hopefully, the bureaucratic wheels will move quickly so you and others in your predicament can receive the DVA-funded psychological treatment you require in custody,” he said.

“Your treatment should not have to await a lengthy process or the outcome of a Commonwealth royal commission.”


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