THE systemic issues driving higher rates of suicide in Australia's defence force veterans community will underpin a royal commission announced by the Prime Minister this week.
The announcement is welcome news for veterans and campaigners for a royal commission who have long-pushed for an inquiry to have their voices heard.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, April 19, released draft terms of reference for a royal commission, which will run alongside the work of the interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.
The national commissioner will work to identify and understand the factors and systemic issues that may contribute to suicide risk among serving and former ADF members, and make recommendations to government.
Earlier this year, Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester said on a visit to Port Macquarie that reducing suicide rates and improving mental health services can be achieved by the appointment of a national commissioner who will drive policy and deliver enduring outcomes for veterans and defence force personnel.
The Prime Minister has previously rejected calls for a royal commission.
Ex-serviceman Jason Gill of Port Macquarie RSL sub-Branch welcomed the news saying a royal commission will hopefully put in place strategies that can save lives.
"This is a positive step towards a positive outcome," Mr Gill said.
"Hopefully with all the powers of a royal commission (the government) can actually come up with plans and strategies to combat the growing number of suicides."
Mr Gill said there is no magic solution because there are many reasons why veterans struggle with mental health.
He says the time it takes to process claims and provide support to veterans who need help must be improved because for many ex-servicemen and women, time is not on their side.
Mr Gill ended his Army service in 2011 and continues to battle PTSD. It took the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) five years to process his claim.
"It can be an arduous process. It's not so much about them asking how they can help you, but rather proving you need them," Mr Gill said.
"Having said that, once I got my claim through, DVA has been wonderful."
Mr Gill served in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq. He had shorter deployments to Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and Sudan.
He said he was warned about what to expect before entering a war zone, and was provided with post-operational psych screening on his return.
On the frontline however, Mr Gill said there are personal challenges no-one can prepare for.
"I do have PTSD and I do struggle. I'm now out of the army and I am being supported by DVA who look after all my treatment and everything I need," he said.
"I'm still getting help that I need."
Male veterans are 21 per cent more likely to die by suicide than men generally, and the rate of suicide among ex-servicewomen is twice as high as among women in general, according to monitoring reports from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Julie-Ann Finney has led a national campaign for a royal commission following the death of her son Dave in 2019 who, after serving his country for 20 years, left the Navy with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Her petition, calling for a royal commission, has more than 409,000 signatures.
Ms Finney said her son desperately wanted to stay alive, but was "failed by a broken system that is seeing more than one veteran a week take their own life".
"Finally the voices of veterans will be heard and finally families can stand up and share their stories," Ms Finney said in a statement.
She urged the Prime Minister to ensure that the voices of veterans are front and centre in this royal commission.
"We cannot have the organisations at the centre of a broken system leading this investigation."
RSL national president Greg Melick said fewer than one in four recommendations of previous inquiries into the issue have been implemented.
"The time for action is long-passed," he said.
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- beyondblue 1300 22 4636
- The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036.
- Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046, or through SafeZone on 1800 142 072.