Asylum seeker boats take tragic toll on veterans

NAVY Lieutenant Lenny Fay is the face of a second phase of tragedy borne out of the asylum seeker drownings off Northern Australia.

He could never have ­imagined he would be confronted with dead adults and frail children when he signed up to serve in the Navy.

That's what he struggled with during his service off Northern Australia from 2007-2013 when 50,000 asylum seekers arrived by boat and more than 1200 drowned.


The newly engaged 36-year-old took his life on May 27, a week before the start of The Daily Telegraph's campaign Save our Heroes, which is backing calls from shattered families for a royal commission into hundreds of military suicides.

His family said he was let down and neglected in his hour of need, and that five of his fellow Navy veterans had also taken their lives.

The final blow came after his funeral when the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) called Mr Fay's mother Mary, which left her sobbing following the call.

"They asked very confronting questions to the point mum broke down. It was intrusive, callous, cold, and had no empathy," Jerrard said.

"It was more about 'we heard your son passed away, here are some questions so we can tick boxes'."


Dave Finney, who lost his battle with PTS in February.
Dave Finney, who lost his battle with PTS in February.


Navy officer Dan Herps.
Navy officer Dan Herps.

The Daily Telegraph has found three former Navy veterans who struggled with the trauma of their work ­rescuing asylum seekers and recovering the dead.

They include Dave Finney, who was a poster boy for the Navy and who took his own life in February.

His mother has collected more than 235,000 signatures calling on the government to hold a royal commission into the deaths.

In the lead-up to his death he was told by the DVA, in an email, that he would wait months to see a psychiatrist.

Navy officer Dan Herps, committed suicide in 2014 after more than two decades of service, including a stint on border patrol off Christmas Island, where he saw babies die at sea and later faced a similar struggle with the DVA.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said lives were "lost or damaged forever" during the period asylum seekers were drowning.

"Navy and Australian Border Force officers should never have been subject to those recurring terrible and confronting scenes," he said.

Navy Lieutenant Lenny Fay with fiancee Laura Shanahan.
Navy Lieutenant Lenny Fay with fiancee Laura Shanahan.


Mr Fay's younger brother Jerrard said the family didn't know the extent of his ­mental health issues.

"Lenny was the main point of contact during his role at sea and I remember him telling me about some refugees who were confronting and quite aggressive. He broke his two fingers defending himself one time," ­Jerrard said.

"It messed with him and he left as one person, but came back as someone ­different."

In 2015, Mr Fay could no longer deal with the horrors and he discharged just a few months short of qualifying for his service pension.

"He was not willing to even stay for a few extra weeks and couldn't get out soon enough. It would take more than a year before he finally got a referral for a psychiatrist and diagnosed with PTSD," Jerrard said.

His brother said the Navy failed to provide adequate help: "They should've picked up on any problem and followed up on it, even after Lenny left service."

"He was let down by their lack of initiative."

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