Mufti Vol. 61 No. 2

Author: Aileen Phillips
Photography: George Salpigtidis and Teagan Glenane

Looking for an exciting and fulfilling career, Lynne made a snap decision to enlist with the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps in 1975, aged 17.

“I was working in a bank on Collins Street and I went up the end of the street and they had a recruitment caravan and I thought ‘wow, a job with a difference!’ And that’s why I joined.”

Lynne’s desire to become a driver was successful.

“They taught me to drive actually, I drove cars, trucks, bus license. All of those things. It was all chugging along quite well, until my last posting at the Sydney Transport Unit.”

It was downhill for Lynne after that, saying she was subjected to bullying.

“They did some barbaric things to me…”

Lynne felt vulnerable.

Top left: Lynne, during her posting with the Sydney Transport Unit. Top right: Lynne in uniform. Center: Lynne walks along the beach.

“There was no one to go to if you need counselling or if you had a concern, and the Sydney Transport Unit was a pretty harsh environment.”

She couldn’t wait to discharge.

“I just wanted to get out. Consequently, because I left early, I didn’t get any of the benefits you normally get when you leave the Army, you know, like housing loans and things like that.”

Disillusioned and disappointed, Lynne hit the road.

“I travelled around Australia to get the army out of my system and then went overseas for three years.”

All the while, living with dark secrets that tormented her for years.

"I never talked to my dad about it. Never told anybody about it. I never kept any memorabilia, and I don’t think I ever told my son."

Lynne McCullagh

Times were tough for the mother of two, who also suffered a marriage breakdown.

“I was working three of four jobs…my friends would lend me 10 dollars here and there, getting 20 dollar vouchers from St Vinnies, they helped me move into a rental. I had nothing, absolutely nothing.”

She says she even suffered the humiliation of not being able to attend her son’s wedding abroad.

But a lucky encounter with an old army friend in 2019, led Lynne to turning her life around.

“She asked me if I had a White Card. I didn’t even know what a White Card was. Nobody had told me…”

She eventually met Bruce Turner, Senior Advocate for RSL Victoria.

Bruce Turner
Senior Advocate for RSL Victoria, Bruce Turner

Advocates generally work for ex-service organisations and are trained to help veterans or their dependents access services and payments.

In the context of the RSL, a Military Compensation Advocate assists both serving and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and their widows to lodge claims for compensation to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).

Bruce has been an Advocate for 25 years following his 26 years of service in the Army. He is also the President of the Rosebud RSL Sub-Branch.

"She came to the Rosebud RSL looking for assistance in paying some bills. I sat down and I talked to her and was able to pay the bills for her. But I also, from her story, opinioned that she may be entitled to some form of pension from her service."

Bruce Turner

With Lynne on board Bruce got to work, tracking down her service and medical records. With his investigative hat on, Bruce discovered Lynne had seen a psychiatrist prior to her administrative discharge.

The psychiatrist’s view was that Lynne suffered from conditions of mental health due to her service.

“I then put a claim in under the Defence Rehabilitation Compensation Act for her to get incapacity payments to tie her over until her claims could be decided. She was able to receive some $1200 a week, which greatly assisted her.”

Bruce secured a retrospective change to the reason for her discharge, from administrative to medical.

He also successfully applied to have Lynne’s mental health condition accepted as being related to her service under the Veterans Entitlement Act.

Lynne is now freed from financial stress and can close a traumatic chapter of her life.
Lynne is now freed from financial stress and can close a traumatic chapter of her life.

She was also able to receive a weekly superannuation payment backdated to the time of her discharge.

Even when claims were rejected, Bruce appealed to the Veterans Review Board, a specialist tribunal that takes a fresh look at decisions about veteran’s entitlements and compensation.

As a result of Bruce's extensive knowledge and dedication to his client, Lynne received a significant backdated compensation payment.

Bruce is so pleased he could play a part in Lynne’s journey.

“It’s nice for the individual to do it by themselves but with the three Acts out there, it’s a bit of a minefield and it’s always good to have someone on your side.”

But for Bruce, it’s just another day on the job.

“It wasn’t complicated at all. To me, there was just a path to follow. There were boxes to tick and there was a natural progression as we saw by the end result.”

“It was a just decision.”

Lynne said, “Without him (Bruce Turner), it would have just gone under the carpet and I would never have had this result.”
Lynne said, “Without him (Bruce Turner), it would have just gone under the carpet and I would never have had this result.”

He says Lynne lost out on her quality of life through no fault of her own.

Lynne is now freed from financial stress and can close a traumatic chapter of her life. A friend even told her she walks with her shoulders back – a sign of renewed confidence and positivity.

"Without him (Bruce Turner), it would have just gone under the carpet and I would never have had this result. Through it, I’ve been able to give back, I’ve donated to St Vinnies, I’ve donated to the RSL."

Lynne McCullagh

Lynne couldn’t be more grateful, compelled to tell her story in the hope it helps another veteran.

If this article has raised any concerns for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. The National Sexual Assault and Family Violence Counselling Service can be contacted via 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). Veterans and their families can access free and confidential 24/7 support from Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling on 1800 011 046. The Safe Zone support line (1800 142 072) is an anonymous support line also operated by Open Arms. For more information about RSL Victoria’s advocacy services or to request support, please contact Veteran Central