RSL Queensland Advocate delivers financial security to the family of a dying veteran

Sarah Webb 01 September 2022

Deanna Pringle was able to bring some peace to Army veteran Garry in his final days.

Garry Fairleigh RSL Queensland

Garry Fairleigh surrounded by his extended family

Content warning: this article mentions terminal illnesses and personal loss 

When Cathy Fairleigh looks back over the past couple of years, it’s impossible to hold back tears. 

Her husband Garry, a veteran who served for 20 years in the Australian Army, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma that led to a 16-month battle before the doctors admitted defeat in December. 

On Boxing Day in 2021, Garry lost that battle.   

“When we were presented with that diagnosis and told there was nothing the doctors could do it just took the feet out from under us,” says Cathy. 

“We went from being a family who thought we were on top of this melanoma to being a family that had to quickly figure out how to say goodbye. His pain medication wasn’t being metabolised because his liver was completely compromised. 

“His only wish was to be at home with his family and with the help of many caring people we were able to achieve that very quickly.” 

It was in those final weeks that Garry discussed with Cathy his concerns for her future and that of their family.  

“I said ‘why don’t I go and talk to an Advocate at RSL Queensland and see if there is any way for them to help us?’.

“He was a typical vet who didn’t like asking for help, but this time he said yes,” Cathy says. 

“He was worried for me. 

“I had no idea what services we could access or what RSL Queensland could do. All I knew was that Garry had a part pension from injuries he received during his Army service. 

“I thought maybe we’d be able to get some help with what we expected to be a lengthy time of caring for Garry at home. 

“So, I reached out, and that’s when I met Deanna Pringle.” 

Deanna, a Compensation Advocate based out of the Toowoomba office, who served in the Defence Force before transitioning into the Reserves, was quick to act knowing Garry’s time was coming to an end. 

“Our first meeting was at 10am at the RSL office. Deanna started going through the support that was available and then said she could apply for a Veteran Gold Card for Garry. But she warned me that it could take time,” Cathy says. 

“I left that office at 10am and four hours later she called and said, ‘I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but Garry has been approved for a Gold Card.’” 

“When I passed on the news to Garry he just cried and cried. He said, ‘You’ll be alright now.’”  

“Before Garry’s discharge from the hospital, we had made some alterations to the property so he could be comfortable. This Gold Card meant we’d get financial assistance to cover those costs, not to mention assistance for medications. 

“And for Garry, well, this meant he could relax and just enjoy his time with our girls and their families.” 

Garry Fairleigh RSL Queensland

Garry in his younger days

Garry was first diagnosed in June 2020. Over the course of 16 months, he underwent six surgeries and 25 radiation treatments while also receiving immunotherapy. 

In December, at Garry’s insistence, the family all came together for a final family photo shoot. 

Garry passed away just days later. 

While it’s a story more akin to a rollercoaster that never fails to bring tears to Cathy’s eyes, she said Deanna had become a beacon of light in their darkest moments. 

“During that time, she took all the care and concern over compensation processes away. And while I know it’s part of her job description, there are people who simply do their job, and that’s fine, but then there are those who do it with such beautiful grace and compassion and that was Deanna,” Cathy says. 

“She made such a difference to our lives.” 

For Deanna, who joined RSL Queensland in January 2020, it’s indeed more than just a job – but a means to change and improve the lives of veterans and their families. 

“Before this role, I served for several years and then ended up recruiting for Defence. During my time I had some injuries but getting medical support from DVA isn’t always straightforward,” she says. 

“It was so incredibly stressful trying to get my own claims in, and after it all I just wanted to create a streamlined process. 

“Now, as a Compensation Advocate, I can do that. I get to support people through their initial claims process and if we’ve got a diagnosis, I can submit a claim on their behalf through the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA). 

“And that’s how I met Cathy. 

“She’s a beautiful lady and when we were able to get that Gold Card for her and Garry in a matter of hours, she just couldn’t thank me enough. She sent a morning tea platter around and she wrote me a personal letter as well and the effort she put in was so humbling. 

“It makes the tough days doing this job really worthwhile. 

“And making the toughest time in Cathy’s life a little easier is a strong reminder of why I do this job.” 

 

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