Perhaps more tragic is that former Sergeant Kevin Frost is one of more than 400 Australian Defence Force members who have taken their own lives either while serving the country or after service since 2001.
Many of them – including Perth-based Sergeant Frost – were the subjects of drug trials that have since been found to have adverse effects including hallucinations, depression and suicidal ideation.
The 45-year-old was reported missing from his Busselton home over the weekend, but his family later confirmed his body had been found.
They told the ABC he had suffered from side effects linked to anti-malarial drug mefloquine, also known as Lariam, which was given to soldiers in East Timor.
Several of those who took the drug have since taken their own lives.
News.com.au previously spoke to dozens of retired ADF members who were given the drug. Many said they were given no choice.
One former ADF member who served in East Timor and did not wish to be identified said he still suffererd from a range of adverse effects after taking mefloquine.
“I was not warned of the health risks, and I did not give consent,” he said.
Another said he wanted to take his own life.
“I frequently hold a gun in my hand and tell myself to just finish it,” a former soldier said.
The Defence Department said there were “very few adverse events” from a trial in which hundreds of soldiers bound for Timor in the early 2000s were given the drug.
But former ADF members who took the drug don’t buy it. Neither do the experts.
Dr Remington Nevin has been researching the impact of the drug for over a decade. The physician epidemiologist from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said there was no doubt hundreds of military personnel suffered from mefloquine toxicity.
He said the poisoning of Australian soldiers was part of a historical pattern that views deploying service members as “convenient test populations on whom many shortcuts have been taken”.
“In general, the East Timor trials are the most egregious example of that,” Dr Nevin said.
“One of the tragedies is that it’s quite clear in retrospect that it should never have been licensed. It was simply too dangerous to be used. Evidence we interpret very plainly today was misinterpreted for nearly a quarter of a century.”
ADF veteran Chris Stiles told a forum in Townsville in 2016 that his life had changed forever after being forced to take mefloquine. He took his own life in August that same year.
Veteran Colin McIntosh was in Timor at the same time and said after taking the drug he developed such bad vertigo he “couldn’t walk down stairs” without holding on to a hand rail. He told news.com.au he lives with the night terrors.
“I’ve fought every snake, every bear (in my dreams). I’ve thrown myself out of bed to escape. They’re not as dark anymore, but they’re still incredibly vivid.”
And veteran Stuart McCarthy, who was given mefloquine in Ethiopia and Eritrea, is now calling for an independent inquiry into what it’s done to him and many others like him.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has acknowledged veteran suicides and says he will consider ordering a royal commission in 2020.
For Sgt Frost, it was too little too late. The veteran of East Timor and Afghanistan blew the whistle in 2016 on the alleged execution of an Afghan prisoner at the hands of Australian servicemen.
He told the ABC the prisoner of war that he captured was later “executed, murdered”.
“I can’t remember if he cut the cuffs off first or if he cut the cuffs off after he shot him. That’s the one point I can’t remember there ’cause I wasn’t looking,” Sgt Frost said.
“I didn’t want to look. I turned around and the guy was dead. He’d been shot through the forehead.”
Did you take part in ADF drug trials? Contact the author: email@example.com | @ro_smith