It's lonely: Tommy Pulliene's experience of leaving the Army
Having left the Army four years ago, Tommy Pulliene says he has a good balance in life now. But he didn’t always.
The former Corporal and father of three served in the Australia Army for 18 years, moving around Australia four times and completing three tours in East Timor, two in Solomon Islands and one in Iraq.
Despite suffering injuries from a parachuting accident in 2004, which later caused damage to his spine and shoulder requiring a series of operations, he loved the Army.
“I lost the use of my right side after a rugby game one day and was told my arm was probably not going to work again,” he said.
During his two year rehabilitation to learn to use his arm again, Tommy was in Wagga Wagga and his kids with his ex-wife in Sydney. He said having family around was part of the healing process.
“I made the drive to see them every two weeks for one and half years because I couldn’t bear to not have my kids around who are so important to me.”
Diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, Tommy describes his discharge from the Army as going through hell.
“I was bounced from hospital to hospital, physio to physio – it felt like they were trying to kill me with medication. One doctor was not talking to another.
“The medical system is different. I didn’t know how to make a doctor’s appointment.
“And you’re lonely. You lose all your friends. It was really hard to deal with.”
Since his discharge and with the support of his partner Melissa, a psychologist, Tommy worked hard to set goals and maintain his mental health.
Relocating to Newcastle to build new lives, they mapped out their personal life, joining clubs, gyms, doing charity work and even buying a local kayaking business alongside his management of a security firm.
“The more we are exposed to, the more resilient we will be.
“Sport is one way of rehabilitating into civilian environment. We can’t stay insulated in the veteran environment always.”
Tommy can now reflect on the experience of transitioning to civilian life, seeing many struggle to get help and be independent from Defence.
“Your sense of belonging takes a big hit – you need to chase a sense of belonging again.
“The core beliefs and ethos from Defence are so important for veterans – they will always be there for each other. But the best thing veterans can do for the veterans community is look after themselves first.
“If you’re not one of the problems you can be one of the solutions.
Tommy says the National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare at Concord Hospital is a much-needed service for veterans to be able to look after themselves.
“Getting people looked after in one place is an amazing idea. I would like to go to less funerals for my mates.
“I believe in the motivated veteran – if we can motivate people to be motivated – we are going to save more lives.”