The Phil Allen veterans meet with at Goodna RSL sub-branch these days, is a far cry from the one who used to spend most of his days sitting in a corner drinking.
The Vietnam Veteran’s life took a downward spiral in the years after returning home.
In a tale not too dissimilar from other soldiers, Mr Allen – retired with a total and permanent injury – turned to drinking to try and deal with the horrors of war that echoed within and the disregard of an unappreciative Australian public.
“As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t do a thing,” he said.
Much has changed since then, not least of all the community’s level of support for Vietnam Veterans who are no longer shunned or the “forgotten veterans”.
Plenty has changed for Mr Allen too. It began when a mate called by one day.
“He dragged me up and said we need someone to talk with veterans,” Mr Allen said.
“So instead of spending my days drinking, I had to adopt a new persona, dress better, look and act more professional.”
These days Mr Allen is highly regarded in the Goodna RSL sub-branch for his work as the group’s veteran support officer.
“Because of the welfare work I now do, I haven’t got time to sweat over me,” he said.
On the weekend, Mr Allen oversaw the unveiling of a plaque on a stone at Goodna Services Club.
The plaque highlights the serious issue of suicide among returned soldiers. It is a small in size but Mr Allen is hoping it is the beginning of something big.
“I read the story of Clarence Ormsby who is a New Zealand Vietnam veteran,” Mr Allen said.
“A couple of years ago, his wife read a sign in the local shopping centre that said 239 Australian soldiers have suicided since 1999. It blew his mind and so he organised a national day to remember those who served and returned but later succumbed to suicide.
“He chose 23 June to be Veterans Suicide Memorial Day, the day one of his fellow artillery soldiers took his own life on base in Nui Dat.”
This year, on the back of Mr Allen’s efforts, Goodna RSL sub-branch officially observed Veterans Suicide Memorial Day for the first time.
He said he hoped it would lead to a greater awareness of suicide and mental health issues among veterans and the wider community.
“If you know someone who seems incredibly down, ask the question, are you considering suicide? It can save lives,” he said.
“Just talk. If you can keep the person talking you stand a chance of getting them to seek help.”
Goodna RSL sub-branch (122 Brisbane Terrace, next to the bowls club) hosts a weekly drop-in centre for veterans and current defence force personnel where they can come by and talk about issues they are facing.
The centre is open each Wednesday from 9am to 12pm.