REBUILDING: Rachel Kerrigan, of Wallsend, served as an Air Force electrical engineer in Afghanistan in 2002, and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. She has faced losing her home twice recently. Picture: Simone De Peak.EIGHT years after returning from Afghanistan, barely in her 30s,Rachel Kerrigan tried to digestthe news thatshe’d never work again.
Ms Kerrigan, of Wallsend, served asan Air Force electrical engineer inthe war’s infancy in 2002,and has suffered ever sincefrompost traumatic stress disorder. It finishedher career. She an honours graduateon a six-figure salary.
“People think it’s fantastic to be on a veteran’s pension, but I’m 38. I was told in 2010 that I’d never work again,” Ms Kerrigan said.
“I went from being busy all the timeto being home alone with nothing to do but think.”
The single mother to 12-year-old Kiara hasnearly lost herhometwice recently, andis part of a generation of young veterans in the Hunterbattlinghomelessness and the crippling effects of their service.
The sizeof the problem in the Hunter is unknown.
Self-fundedHomes for Heroes, whichprovided Ms Kerrigan withfinancial counselling, is nowhelping five unhoused veterans.
A 2009 Department of Veterans’ Affairs report found there were3000 homeless veterans across the country on any given night. Other estimates suggest that is conservative.
Homelessness NSWestimates that about one in10rough sleepers is aveteran, a figure that rings true forHomes for Heroes spokesmanTom Pulleine.
“If not more, going by the number of calls we get,” Mr Pulleinesaid.
More than 40,000 troops have been deployed to the Middle Eastsince the DVA report, meaning an updated estimatecould yield even more troublingresults.
Ms Kerrigan said she couldunderstand how someone’slife couldunravel.
Her experiences of warwere “not really different to anyone else’s; they involved guns, knives, people”.
Butthe condition they triggered left her withtwo disintegrated marriagesand a constant struggle to stay on top of mortgage payments, bills and rates. Herweight ballooned to 119 kilograms (she is back to 57 kg). She was taking 30 pills a day.
“For me, being in the military and serving my country was my identity – it defined who I was,” Ms Kerrigan said.
“When I lost the ability to put that uniform back on, to serve my country again,I lost who I was.”
At the urging ofher daughter, shetook part in a horse training program in 2013 with US-basedtrainer Sir Monty Roberts that she credits with restoring her self trust.
As shecontinues to manage her PTSD, Ms Kerrigan hopes to establish a version of Sir Monty’s horsetrainingfor veteransin the Hunter.
She recently took part in a bike ride withthe Hunter Valley Military Brotherhood to support a homelessveteran in Gosford.