Soldier's suicide sparks inquiry Les Kennedy November 1, 2007 Captain Andrew Paljakka, an explosives expert with the army, took his own life after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. His death has prompted a military inquiry. Captain Andrew Paljakka, an explosives expert with the army, took his own life after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. His death has prompted a military inquiry. HE SERVED in Afghanistan for just six weeks, but it was enough time to see things that would haunt Andrew Paljakka long after his tour of duty ended. He told of having witnessed a child being raped, and of having to listen to the "gurgling sound" of a man he had shot slowly dying. After Captain Paljakka, 27, returned to Australia last year, he began drinking heavily and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and severe depression. In February he was admitted to a private hospital in Richmond, NSW, but discharged himself. On February 26, he took his own life. He left a young widow. His death may prove to be a watershed. Amid growing concern over the psychological impact of modern military service in war zones ranging from Afghanistan to East Timor, a military board of inquiry will sit privately in Sydney to examine whether his suicide may have occurred in the course of his service. The NSW Coroner will await the outcome of the inquiry before deciding whether to hold an inquest, a spokesman said yesterday. Captain Paljakka was the youngest army recruit to graduate as an officer from Duntroon Military College in Canberra, and went on to become an expert on major explosives. He was based at the army's explosives ordnance distribution ammunitions centre at Orchard Hills. His expertise in destroying unexploded bombs, bunker systems and booby traps led to his deployment in Afghanistan with an SAS special operations group in April last year. His suicide follows that of another Afghanistan returnee, former SAS trooper Geffrey Gregg, who took his own life in Perth. Mr Gregg, formerly a signalman, was involved in a bungled mission in which 11 civilians were killed in an attack by Australian troops. At the time of his death, the Federal Government said Mr Gregg was among four servicemen who had taken their lives after serving in the Middle East or Afghanistan — the others, including Captain Paljakka, were not publicly named. Mr Gregg's death led to the promise of an investigation into whether enough support was being given to returned soldiers with mental health problems. At the time, Mr Gregg's family expressed their anger that Defence did not try to find out why he missed psychiatric appointments in the nine months before he took his life. Mr Gregg, who had post-traumatic stress disorder, was frustrated at having to deal with three different agencies, his family has said. Last August war veterans urged the Federal Government to provide greater access to psychiatric treatment for former soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, in particular those who had served in East Timor. About 1200 claims from the 16,000 veterans of the East Timor peacekeeping operation have been filed with Veterans Affairs for shell-shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. There have also been attempts by veterans to commit suicide. In August 2005, two years after being discharged from the Royal Australian Navy after rising to the rank of lieutenant commander, David Buck, 53, a Timor veteran, tried to get NSW police to shoot him dead by staging a robbery at the Umina Bowling Club with a fake bomb. Mr Buck was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of seeing machete-wielding mobs and hacked bodies. Last year NSW District Court judge Michael Finnane, in deciding not to jail Mr Buck, described his case as tragic and bizarre. For help or information visit beyondblue. org.au, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114.