Our injured workers deserve support too

RECOGNITION: We rightly honour our injured veterans, but society often looks down on those civilians who've been hurt at work. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
RECOGNITION: We rightly honour our injured veterans, but society often looks down on those civilians who've been hurt at work. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Invictus – even the word feels powerful. It’s often when we are feeling at our most vulnerable that the mantle of courage tips us towards bravery over defeat. And yet, for many of us, we need a little nudge to ensure we don’t tip ourselves over the edge instead.

Military life brings sacrifice. It is well-established going into the Defence Force that the possibility of seeing active combat is a reality of service.

And with that comes the risk of loss of limb, wellbeing and, ultimately, life.

The horrors of war are rarely able to be replicated, or truly understood, unless you experience it yourself.

Having worked with many Defence Force members as they transition out of the military and who have seen active combat service – often returning with illness or injury – many of my clients in this situation teeter on the edge of feeling conquered by their experience. To put together a warrior games under the banner “Invictus” is more than giving returned Defence Force members the inspiration needed for recovery, rehabilitation or even to create a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.

Beyond all of that, the Invictus Games gives our wounded, injured and ill veterans a piece of their identity back, a sense of honour and collegiality in preparation and participation in the games. As the Duke of Sussex said, the athletes are all ordinary people, doing extraordinary things.

The Invictus Games put a spotlight on the mental and physical health of the service members – both active members and veterans – and showcased the importance of honouring, respecting and recognising the service and sacrifice of others in representation of all of us.

I think that perhaps we now need to take Prince Harry’s lead and expand the reach of that spotlight to encompass all who have experienced mental and physical distress as a result of job-related activities.

So many people who have experienced workplace injuries and illness have been forced to bear the burden of worker’s compensation, initially designed to support our injured and ill colleagues, but in reality has become the instrument of making black marks against the names of those who seek the help.

Many a client has told me they refused medical care and didn’t disclose mental health issues for fear of being branded a high-risk hire due to the impact that taking worker’s compensation has on our career record.

We are often faced with the need to disclose any prior claims against worker’s compensation before we are offered employment with a new organisation, and this can feel like owning up to a misdeed. Even if the injury or illness was due to no fault of our own.

We often fail to recognise those of us who are injured or fall ill in the effort to mine our resources, manufacture our products, farm our crops or work in our offices.

We seem to hold up our injured and ill servicemen and women (and rightly so), as figures of respect and even national pride, however we often fail to recognise those of us who are injured or fall ill in the effort to mine our resources, manufacture our products, farm our crops or work in our offices.

Our society puts so much stress on participation that there is no place in our society for those of us who are unable to work, often branding us as bludgers and system rorters with an inherent distrust of the “true extent” of injury or illness.

With no societal safety net to catch us if we fall, we land, inevitably at Centrelink’s door, battling the eligibility criteria to receive a fortnightly payment that still puts us under the poverty line.

I watched the games in awe of the servicemen and women as they demonstrated their unconquerable zest for achievement and success. Having been a military spouse myself, I know first hand how important the Defence community is to its members and families, and I recognised the value of that sense of belonging among the athletes.

How incredible would it be if we created a community of belonging and security to support our fellow civilian citizens when they are vulnerable, to catch them when they fall and to provide them with safe, unjudged avenues for respectful support that will not hamper future employment prospects.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer, counsellor and coach at impressability.com.au