Reclaiming my identity

November 2019

Brad Copelin's experience informs his role as NCVH's Veterans' Advisor

Brad Copelin's experience informs his role as NCVH's Veterans' Advisor

Returning to civilian life is hard and Brad Copelin has left the battlefield of war but is still fighting with an enemy. This time the enemy is within and wrestling with a loss of identity.

Now 49, Brad joined the Army when he was 17 after graduating from high school in Brisbane, Queensland.

He rose through the ranks and was deployed several times.

He was involved in border protection operations, became the Military Police Commander in the Solomon Islands, and served with the Australian Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was his last overseas deployment.

He returned home to Sydney where he led advanced military police training and then took a position at the Defence Force’s Corrective Establishment – its detention facility at Holsworthy Barracks.

In 2011, after 24 years of service, the former Warrant Officer was medically discharged. He had physical injuries and had sought medical help for mental health issues.

“I was lost. I had no idea what I could do. I was trying to fend for myself. I was struggling,” Brad said.

Returning to civilian life was hard and he wrestled with a loss of identity.

“For most of my adult life I’ve been in uniform. There’s discipline. There’s routines. And then all of a sudden you’re out and you lose that support network,” he said.

“To go from a position of responsibility, having troops under your command… from when I was 22 years old to when I left at 41 years old… it’s a big loss.

“I went from being a career soldier to being unemployed. I’d never ever been unemployed in my life. Back to being dad to two young children and being

‘Mr Mum’ because I wasn’t allowed to work. And the loss of identity is huge.”

Being unemployed and unemployable exacerbated his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and led to anxiety and depression. For two years, he spent most of his days in bed at home.

He had graphic flashbacks and nightmares.

Sometimes a noise, smell or taste would trigger a memory.

Brad became hyper-vigilant – constantly on alert for any potential threats – and was on an emotional rollercoaster: angry one minute and dissolved into tears the next.

It affected his family – his wife and two children Nardia, now 13, and her younger sister Livia, who’s almost ten.

“My daughters had to learn to live with a happy dad, a crying dad, an angry dad. Sometimes all within 25 minutes.

“They know more about veterans’ mental health than most kids will ever know,” he said.

Over the past few years, with the support of his family and friends, and with help from his doctors, his journey towards recovery has been on-going.

“I had a breakdown. It all just started to fall apart. I’d taken too much on. I was just not coping and it was affecting my family too much. I put my hand-up and my psychiatrist was a great help.

“I often use the term ‘work-in-progress’. And that’s what I think I am,” he said.

Brad hopes to make the transition from life in military to the civilian world easier for other veterans and their families and has taken an active role in veterans’ welfare organisations.

He’s been appointed the Veterans’ Advisor for the National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare (NCVH) at Concord Hospital.

“I’m passionate about helping others. The mateship and leadership {that comes with being a member of the ADF] continues out of uniform. We all have a connection because we have all served in the military,” he said.

He views his position at the Centre as being a veteran’s advocate.

“My role is to be a voice for the veterans and their families. For all of those who have served and the current and future generation of veterans.”

Brad says his fellow veterans are pleased the Centre will offer streamlined access to services and treatment programs in one place – with many having experienced being “bounced around” from one organisation to the next.

“The National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare is going to be the pinnacle for veterans’ healthcare in this country.

“It’s virtually a one-stop-shop. They [veterans] can see a nurse, see a doctor [and] go through all the different treatment programs.

“That is a huge change to the way we have been looking after the healthcare of veterans for a long time.”

And the support that’ll be offered to veteran’s partners and their children is key.

“Too often, the family is forgotten about… That’s one of their [a partner’s] biggest complaints. That all the effort is for the partner who served… and that they’re forgotten about.

“They’ll know they can seek the help [at the Centre] as well. Their role is just as important as the person who serves and goes overseas. Because, they’re the one that stays behind and does everything to allow them to do that.

“It’s a shame that they are often forgotten but here [at the Centre] they won’t be,” he said.

He’s full of praise for those behind the concept of the NCVH and the team at Concord Hospital working to bring it to fruition.

“I’m surrounded by people who care and want to help and that’s brilliant,” he said.

Reflecting on his own journey, Brad wished the Centre had already been built.

“If this centre was open then [when I was discharged from the army], I would have been able to walk in and go ‘Help. This is me. This is what’s happening. Help me.’

“Saying the word ‘help’ is hard for a lot of veterans to do.

“But, with a centre like this it’s going to encourage them to do that. To seek the help. It’s going to encourage families to seek help,” he said.

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National Centre for Veterans' Healthcare
Sydney Local Health District
Concord Hospital
Hospital Road, Concord NSW 2139


(02) 9767 8669
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