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When He Came Home

The Impact of War on Partners and Children of Veterans



Dianne Dempsey

Sydney, NSW: Arcadia, 2021

Paperback   448pp   RRP $29.95


Reviewer: Neville Taylor, January 2022


Whilst this extremely enlightening work concentrates on Vietnam veterans and their families, there has been cognisance of the struggles that faced the wives and children of First and Second World War veterans. The author has worked tirelessly for recognition of the problems and for fair and equitable support and treatment of our service personal.

Governments have historically suffered from ‘permanent amnesia’ when it comes to recognising combat stress in its veterans after they return from conflict. In addition to combat stress, those who went to Vietnam were pilloried on departure and again on return for being involved in ‘an unjust war’, rejected by the RSL, and not permitted to participate in Anzac Day commemorations. It took decades for acknowledgement of the damage men suffered due to pesticides used as defoliants, and today the impact of pesticides on their descendants is still not acknowledged.

Many veterans have also found the mountains of red tape involved in applying for Department of Veteran Affairs assistance just too hard to overcome. It now requires professionally trained people lodging an application for it to succeed. During the past three decades a number of support organisations have emerged after the hard work and persistence of both wives and veterans. These have succeeded in improving support for veterans and their family, but there still remains a number of holes in the safety net.

Eight families have shared their stories on how PTSD manifested itself in their household, how the partner did or did not cope, the effect on family life, and life today in a more supportive environment. Four cases of intergenerational trauma are examined – where the lives of earlier veterans passed their stress on to their sons. A 2014 Vietnam Veteran’s Family Study of 27 000 Australians concluded that 23% of the offspring of veteran families experienced harsh parenting involving either verbal abuse, excess physical punishment and humiliation, and ridicule, bullying or mental cruelty. The final series of stories are of three households involving contemporary serving ADF members, and recent veterans and their families.

Dempsey’s Conclusion includes the Postscript with the April 19, 2021 announcement of a Royal Commission into ADF and Veteran Suicide. Fourteen books are listed in Recommended Reading ­– ranging from Mr Brother Jack (1964) to The Long Shadow: Australia’s Vietnam Veterans Since the War (2020). A comprehensive support network has been listed in Resources for Veterans and Families.





The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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