The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) figures on veteran suicide are a sobering reminder that we need to do more to tackle this national shame.
From 2001 to 2019, we lost 1,273 current and former defence personnel to suicide – or more than five a month – which is almost three times the number previously reported and far more than the number of soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan.
The fourth annual AIHW study found younger veterans, Navy veterans, men who were forced to leave the Australian Defence Force on medical grounds, and female veterans were more likely to take their own lives.
This year’s data provide a fuller picture of the crisis as it includes veterans who served since 1985, and not just since 2000, more than doubling the sample size of the previous report.
Sadly, these figures confirm what many in the veteran and defence community know anecdotally, but they also remind us that behind the numbers lie the human stories of how war and military service have impacted individuals and their loved ones.
It is clear that the problem is much bigger than we thought and we need to do a lot more to prepare our ex-service men and women for life after the military through assistance with mental health and wellbeing, employment and housing.
These shocking findings confirm why Labor was right to call for a Royal Commission into defence and veteran suicide back in 2019 and yet the Morrison-Joyce Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to establish one this year.
The Government needs to ensure that the Royal Commission has all the powers and resources it needs, and they take seriously its recommendations, so we can prevent these tragic deaths from happening in future.
Labor encourages all veterans and families, and everyone in the defence and veteran communities, to engage with the Royal Commission by making a submission and appearing at a public or private hearing.
At the same time, the Government can’t afford to use the Royal Commission as an excuse to delay action and kick the can down the road when it comes to veteran support services.
As a first step, they need to properly resource the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to speed up claims processing and reduce the huge backlog, so that veterans can get the assistance they need when they need it.
With the end of the conflict in Afghanistan and the Brereton report on alleged war crimes, Labor has also called on the Government to be proactive in providing support to veterans and their families, ahead of the conclusion of the Royal Commission.
Support is available for current and ex-serving defence personnel, and their families through Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling on 1800 011 046 (international +61 8 8241 4546) or through the Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608.