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Dealing with hidden wounds of war

Monday April 23, 2018 Written by Published in Local
Vietnam veteran Gavin Nichol is in Rarotonga to help ex-servicepeople who may be suff ering from Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). 18042319 Vietnam veteran Gavin Nichol is in Rarotonga to help ex-servicepeople who may be suff ering from Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). 18042319

When New Zealand Army veteran Gavin Nichol served his tour in Vietnam he was ordered to spray the herbicide and defoliant chemical Agent Orange by hand.

All those who sprayed it with him are now dead.

It’s a reality of the war he served in that Nichol lives with every day. And now his job is to help make that reality a little easier on other ex-servicepeople who have experienced their own trauma while serving their country.

In Rarotonga as part of his work as an RSA welfare officer, Nichol is here to help Cook Islands war veterans both young and old in any way he can.

Having first travelled here to meet and talk with ex-servicepeople in December 2016, Nichol was also invited back last December, but health problems meant he was unable to make the trip.

Instead, RSA president Henry Wichman has helped bring Nichol here this year ahead of Anzac Day “to speak to ex-veterans, find out if they have any problems, and see if the system, the RSA can actually help them”.

“I worked out that there was about 48 ex-servicemen on the island, and a lot of them don’t really like to be associated with the RSA – which is understandable,” said Wichman. “But we still take an interest in their welfare, whether they’re on active service or not.”

Likewise, while he works as a welfare officer for the Whakatane RSA in New Zealand, Nichol says, “I work for people whether they’re RSA or not – I don’t give a stuff to be quite honest. It’s the veteran I’m concerned with”.

Thanks to his Vietnam service, Nichol knows what it is like to deal with the side effects of war, and he has a simple message for any and all Cook Islands veterans.

“Not all war wounds show. Some of the most destructive wounds are of the mind.

“If you’ve got a mental health problem, let us know. Don’t be ashamed. You’re only going through what all the other soldiers go through. You’re not unique – we all go through those problems.

“It is best to get help before you do any damage.”

 

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