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The chief of the Australian Defence Force has taken the extraordinary step of issuing a public plea for all soldiers who think they are suffering from post traumatic stress to seek help, saying doing so is not a sign of weakness.

Gen. David Hurley says a number of the nation's toughest soldiers - members of the Special Air Service Regiment - have recently asked to be excused from overseas operations because of mental trauma, despite fearing loss of face among their mates.

"If the SAS can do it, the rest of the ADF can do it," Gen. Hurley said.

"It's a plea from all of us … if you are out there and you know you are not right after having been on service this is not a weakness."

Gen. Hurley was speaking after the launch of the book Exit Wounds: One Australian's War on Terror by recently retired Australian Maj-Gen. John Cantwell, who has had post traumatic stress disorder for 20 years.

Gen. Hurley said it was essential that soldiers who had recently served on operations overseas knew there was no shame in suffering from PTSD and help was at hand should they need it. "This hurts people, it hurts families," Gen. Hurley said. "The support is there … we need to reach out but sometimes we can't get in unless they reach out."

Maj-Gen. Cantwell served in the 1991 Gulf war and again in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. In 2010, he commanded all Australian troops in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Ten Australian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan under his command.

When he returned from the Middle East he succumbed to years of mental scarring and was checked into a psychiatric hospital.

Maj-Gen. Cantwell has publicly questioned whether the Afghanistan campaign has been worth the Australian lives lost, but says it would be a mistake for international forces to pull out early.

Gen.Hurley has encouraged Maj-Gen. Cantwell to act as a senior spokesman for the defence community about PTSD and to encourage others who may be suffering to come forward.