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Jacqui Lambie tells defense royal commission that department spied on her from bush over backyard fence

Trapped in a never-ending cycle of back pain and locked in a compensation battle with a government department that had placed her under surveillance, Jacqui Lambie lost hope completely.

She wrote her sons a farewell letter each and tried to take her own life.

“There was no point. There was nothing left of me after that. I had no fight left in me,” the independent senator told a Hobart hearing of the Royal Commission into Defense and Veteran Suicide.

But instead of ending her life, she said the suicide attempt played a role in restarting it, with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs finally giving her the intense psychological care she needed.

It began a slow journey of rehabilitation, and a desire to do what she could make the lives of veterans better, that eventually led to her being elected to Federal Parliament in 2014.

“I made a deal with God: if you’d just give me a second chance at life, I’d fight like hell for the veterans because I could understand what was going on and they weren’t getting a fair deal,” she said.

“From where I was to where I am today I’m very grateful that God has given me a second chance at life and that I have somehow been able to swing that around.”

Army ‘a life-saver’

Senator Lambie joined the Army as an 18-year-old in 1989.

Frequently in trouble, her family was supportive of her enlistment.

Jacqui Lambie was 18 when she joined the Army.(Facebook: Jacqui Lambie)

“I was seen to be around a bad group of people at that point of time who were bad influences, so for me, it was probably a life-saver that I had the opportunity to serve my country,” she said.

She told the commission she initially thrived in the environment, but it was not long before she was thrown a curveball.

Without the knowledge of her or her superiors, she was pregnant, with the Army pushing to end her military career before it even really began.

“What they wanted me to do was discharge immediately and get going, but I did not want to discharge because I didn’t want to end up back in public housing with a child,” she said.

With the help of a lawyer, the Army relented, and Senator Lambie completed her basic training.

Her career almost ended again eight years later when she was charged following an incident.

“Quite frankly, after I got charged for basically assault, I should have been thrown out of the military and they didn’t do that for me,” she said.

“They gave me a second chance and I will always be very, very grateful for having that second chance.”

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Jacqui Lambie in tears while thanking her sons, who ‘paid a heavy price’ while she deteriorated.

‘I just couldn’t take it anymore’

She was sent on a compassionate posting to Devonport, in Tasmania’s north-west.

It was while she was based there, but on an infantry training course in Puckapunyal, that she suffered the first of what was to become a debilitating back injury.

“When I went to get out of bed, I could not get out of bed, I could not move,” she said.

Jacqui Lambie pictured during her military service.
Jacqui Lambie (left) pictured during her military service.(Facebook: Jacqui Lambie)

It started a two-year cycle of physiotherapy, painkillers and hiding her pain.

Two days before she was set to fly out to East Timor on deployment, her back gave in.

“For me that was it, I just couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.

“I just ended up flat on the floor and then that was pretty much the end for me once that happened.”

She was medically downgraded and sent to specialists for a solution, but her back would not recover.

Eventually, she was medically discharged in 2000.

Jacqui Lambie smiles and speaks with a man and she walks down a path.
Senator Jacqui Lambie hoped the commission would lead to a lasting change for veterans.(Supplied: Royal Commission into Defense and Veteran Suicide)

The discharge began a six-year battle with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for compensation, as well as debilitating pain and depression.

“The pain itself was completely out of control and it set into a pattern that once that set in, I had just about given up,” she said.

She told the commission that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs initially deemed her not unfit enough to receive an allowance on top of her disability pension.

Government surveillance from bush behind her house

She engaged a lawyer after being defeated by the process and initially had a series of small victories before a visit to a shopping center changed her life.

Senator Lambie was spotted carrying two shopping bags walking out of a two-dollar shop.

She told the commission the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services decided to put her under surveillance after suspicions she was faking her injuries.

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