After 16 years in the military, in which he became a Special Forces Commando Officer, Heston Russell thought, like many veterans, that the path ahead was fairly straight forward.
He secured a well paid civilian job, bought an inner-city apartment and lived a life that looked perfect. On paper.
Behind the façade, Heston says he was struggling.
“I went from a highly trained military officer to having suicidal thoughts. After much education and therapy, I now realise that my transition from military life to civilian life was not ideal. I had lost my why, my purpose,” Heston said.
“In the military, we are trained to serve our country and our community first. Self is way down the list. When I transitioned into civilian life, I was only serving myself, and that left me feeling lost and hollow.”
Heston’s struggle is not unusual, and the results of a poorly supported transition to civilian life are tragic, with Australia losing more than 700 veterans to suicide since 2001.
To assist veterans and raise awareness of the struggles of many in the veteran community, Heston started Voice of a Veteran, a platform for veterans to connect, speak out and take action against the mental health crisis that has plagued the veteran community.
And this week, Heston is bringing his message to Canberra to talk to veterans and connect with the local defence community.
The event, on Wednesday, 24 February, will be hosted by Effective People manager Kris Milne, a veteran himself, on behalf of Voice of a Veteran and the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association (APPVA).
All current and former ADF personnel are invited to attend.
The event will be a Q&A-style scenario, consisting of Kris Milne in a frank and open conversation with Heston, with no punches pulled surrounding the big issues currently facing our veterans.
“Thousand of veterans are living with anxiety and depression as a result of their transition from a life of service-before-self, into a society where we struggle to find our purpose and identity,” Heston said.
“We must unite as a community to support those veterans in need and provide hope to those who have otherwise been suffering in silence.”
Through Voice of a Veteran, Heston wants veterans to take control of the modern veteran narrative and help educate the Australian public to better understand the issues he says must be faced together.
“Together, we can help all veterans feel more relevant, understood and valued, during and after their transition from military service. We must take action now before another generation of veterans suffers from the same mistakes.”
‘A Candid Discussion with Heston Russell’ will be held at the High North Courtyard at the Hotel Realm on Wednesday, 24 February, from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.
The evening will include an opportunity to hear Heston’s story and look at veteran suicide, Royal Commissions, ex-service organisations, DVA and Open Arms, and the path for the future.
For more information and bookings, visit Eventbrite. The event will also be streamed through a Facebook Live link released before the event.