In a breakthrough for Defence people suffering significant mental illness, Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced an independent commissioner will be appointed to investigate veteran suicide.
Currently, the suicide rate for ex-servicemen is 18 per cent higher than the broader population and ex-servicewomen are twice as likely to take their own lives as other Australian women.
The government will initially spend $40 million to establish a permanent National Commissioner for Defence and Suicide Prevention to examine every suspected veteran and Australian Defence Force suicide.
TGB partner Tim White welcomed the announcement but made the point that help for Defence men and women struggling with mental illness has not been good enough for many years.
“This is a significant announcement. One that people have been wanting to see for years, but it is step one in a long road to fair outcomes and proper support for veterans struggling with mental illness, “ Mr White said.
“As a lawyer, I’ve been helping veterans fight for a fair result from the Department of Veterans Affairs for more than 20 years and, frankly, the system as it stands is not up to scratch and it’s causing tragic, needless deaths and heartache
“These are people who have dedicated and risked their lives for our country and when they come home – a place where they should be safest – it turns out they are at their most vulnerable.”
Mr White said the first thing that needed to change was the level of support veterans received and, in the longer term, a faster, more streamlined process around access to support and decisions on compensation.
“I have had countless veterans, and families of veterans, reach out to me for help over the years because they find the whole process intimidating and confusing,” he said.
“It should be simpler.
“Many of these people were discharged with Defence having full knowledge they were battling significant mental health illnesses, yet they were unable to get the support they needed from the DVA and are tragically no longer with us
“Others continue to struggle to put their lives back together, and plenty more suffer in silence, never formally seeking support or compensation, because they think they won’t be heard or believed.”
He said given the difficulties many have faced with the system as it currently is, he believes there are potentially thousands of ex-servicemen and women waiting for the right moment, and conditions, to step forward and have their claim heard.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“What I hope to see is the Commissioner’s findings affect real change in the system and give veterans with mental health illnesses the confidence to speak up and get the support they are entitled to.”