Rescued hiker commended for speaking out after incident
THE state president of the Returned Services League has commended a digger rescued from Mount Warning on Monday after suffering an anxiety attack.
NSW RSL president Rod White AM said former Alstonville soldier Aaron 'Dogga', who was airlifted from the mountain on Monday afternoon after becoming incapacitated, should be praised for participating in healthy activities which were encouraged in those who'd endured trauma.
Mr White said it wasn't uncommon for such attacks of anxiety to occur without warning.
While he wasn't aware of Dogga's personal medical condition, he was confident he would not have embarked on the arduous climb if he wasn't feeling up to it.
"It's not their fault if something mentally or physically lets them down," Mr White said.
"It's not their fault, when they're trying to get a greater fulfilment in their life, that something interferes with it."
Mr White said the RSL, which celebrates its centenary this year, was running a program to help returned servicemen and women maintain an active lifestyle, which was crucial in managing service-related mental health issues.
"The RSL is actively involved in a number of programs to assist young men and women and even older veterans to gain a more active lifestyle and overcome social isolation," Mr White said.
"At least he had a go."
He said while the mountain rescue may have demanded taxpayer funds, it was important to put it into perspective.
"It could happen to anyone," he said.
"Anyone driving to work today could have been involved in a motor vehicle accident."
He reiterated emergency services should respond to such an incident, regardless of "taxpayer expense".
Mr White said it was positive to see the hiker had spoken out about the incident.
"Many people who have served in the Defence Force at some stage experience a severe traumatic event," he said.
"The wonderful thing about the service today... is that there are support mechanisms that weren't there many years ago. However, a lot of people... are reluctant to put their hand up and get a helping hand."
He hoped Dogga's courage in speaking out on the issue would encourage others open up about their challenges with mental health issues.
'Dogga', who has toured Afghanistan with the Australian Army twice, took to social media to express his concern after being labelled unfit.
"My panic attacks took over and I couldn't move without needing to spew or faint," he said.
"Thanks to the rescue helicopter they came and got me out, they all were amazing."
He said he was about 30 metres from the summit when his knees buckled and heart started racing.
"(I) couldn't focus and felt severe claustrophobia," he said.
"I slowly pushed to the top thinking that if I at least get there I may be able to breathe, but it got increasingly worse to the point I could hardly stand up. I tried three times to get back down but my knees just buckled."
Since initial reports of the "unfit" climber being rescued, 'Dogga' has had an outpouring of support on his Facebook group ;IGY (Pause, I've Got You), which lends support for sufferers of PTSD, anxiety and depression.
One message of support read: "Your PTSD let you down, but that makes you no less strong".
Tweed District Rescue Squad duty officer Mal Pearce said his crews only attended the mountain in case the patient could not be winched out between the clouds.
He said they had no way of being aware of his PTSD and they had been told the man was dehydrated and exhausted.
"We didn't have any contact with the patient," Mr Pearce said.