Tribunal: Senior Member Dr Stewart Fenwick
The applicant served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1971 to 1972. During his posting to HMAS Stalwart he fell overboard and was rescued. While on brief periods of shore leave in the Philippines he claims to have witnessed up to a dozen civilian shootings. He was discharged ‘fit for duty’.
The applicant sought a review of a decision by the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (the Commission) rejecting claims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependence.
The applicant later worked as a ferry driver for eight years, lodging a workers’ compensation claim after a 2004 fall.
The issues to be determined by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) were:
- does the applicant suffer from PTSD and alcohol dependence?
- if so, when did the conditions arise?
- did they result from his time in the Navy?
The AAT considered as evidence a range of materials relating to the applicant’s work and medical history. The AAT noted conflicts in some of this evidence, including in psychiatric diagnoses of his alcohol dependency and PTSD (the applicant saw six different health care professionals between 2008 and 2018). Only one specialist was called to give evidence at the hearing. The AAT noted the applicant told various health professionals different versions of events.
The AAT found the applicant did fall overboard. While the AAT considered it implausible the applicant personally witnessed so many shootings in such a short period, it was unable to entirely discount the possibility.
In relation to the alcoholism, the AAT found it was not caused by his brief military service. Rather his alcohol dependency was likely due to using alcohol as a pain management tool after his 2004 workplace injury.
In regard to PTSD the AAT considered the applicant’s medical history did not reveal a steady history, in relation to causes of mental health problems, sufficient to justify a diagnosis of PTSD. The AAT affirmed the Commission’s decision.
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