War widow giving a voice to veterans’ families
War widow Gwen Cherne wanted to ensure her husband's death wasn't in vain.
It's been 3½ years since Sergeant Peter Cafe took his life following a battle with depression and anxiety following a stroke during his service in Iraq.
"From that moment I just knew I wasn't going to let other military families go through this," Ms Cherne said.
The 42-year-old has been given the opportunity to turn her family's tragedy into lasting change with the federal government appointing her as the first ever Veteran Family Advocate.
Her appointment was announced following The Daily Telegraph's Save Our Heroes campaign for change which revealed more than 400 veterans have taken their lives since 2001.
Ms Cherne - who is also on the board of the NSW War Widow's Guild - will represent veterans' families as the government tries to improve support programs and policies. The role will focus on mental health and suicide prevention and give a voice to veterans' families, particularly as servicemen and women transition from the ADF.
"I thought I can either stand on the side and criticise or I can give this a go and help make change and build an understanding of the things that impact families," she told the Telegraph.
"I want to make sure Pete's death wasn't in vain; it's a legacy for Pete."
The former New Yorker met her future husband in 2008 while in Afghanistan as an aid worker. Sergeant Cafe was working as a security contractor after serving in East Timor and Cambodia with the Australian Army.
The pair fell in love and moved back to Australia to be closer to Sergeant Cafe's son Tom. They married and had two children, Emily, 8 - who was born while Sergeant Cafe was on deployment to Afghanistan - and Lachlan, 5.
A decorated member of Australia's Second Commando Regiment, Sergeant Cafe re-enlisted in the army, serving in Iraq where he suffered a stroke in 2016.
"He was lucky enough to receive great care and outwardly it had little impact, but his cognitive processing was slow," Ms Cherne said.
"He had to come home and he really struggled … he was anxious, stressed and showing signs of PTSD."
Veterans' Affairs Darren Chester congratulated Ms Cherne and said her passion and experience would ensure veterans and their families were put first.
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Originally published as War widow giving a voice to veterans' families