In my last column I wrote about the national tragedy of suicide among veterans and I stated 'for the veterans community and the Australian people in general the challenge is not to let this issue go away without resolution'.
So, in this article I will be following my own advice and speaking about it again. Despite a strong push, largely inspired by the sad loss of Petty Officer David Finney to suicide, it appears that a royal commission into this issue will never see the light of day.
Just a few days ago, and echoing government sentiment, a group of 14 Ex-Service Organisations (ESOs) held a 'Round Table', (ESORT), and issued a statement that recommends against a Royal Commission. What the ESORT is saying is that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) must implement all of the recommendations of the 2017 Senate Inquiry into Veterans Suicide.
The report from this enquiry is know as "The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veterans". The report details 24 recommendations that pave a way forward and points out strategies that could identify and slow the flow of needless veteran deaths.
My interpretation of the ESORT's media release is that they consider many of the answers lie within the recommendations of the report and getting on with enacting those recommendations rather than burden veterans, their families and the Australian public with another enquiry is the way to go.
I note some of the recommendations may already be coming into play such as the early issuing of DVA white cards giving the Government at least a chance of knowing who the veterans are. Like the recommendations of any inquiry at that level of bureaucracy most are 'broad brush' and will take a long time to be implemented let alone be gauged for effectiveness.
What is heartening is that the inquiry has rightly identified that alignment between the ADF and DVA is required. The lack of synergy between the two departments has perplexed and frustrated veterans for a very long time. The inquiry also makes recommendations regarding the training of DVA staff to better understand the realities of military service and the health issues of veterans.
Partners of veterans are also identified in the report as needing further avenues of assistance, information and other resources however, I consider this recommendation needs to go further and include parents and other family members who are often in the dark when a loved one is a veteran suffering with mental illness.
DVA is also likely to be on the receiving end of a big shake up when the Australian Government Productivity Commission into Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans hands down its findings this month. So, while the slow wheels of bureaucracy turn and Government Departments tick boxes to say 'at least we are doing something' more families will be left asking 'why'.
I don't pretend to have the answers, however rapid action at the coal face would be a start. Out here in regional Australia there is a definite perception that Ex-Service Organisations are city centric.
A quick bolstering of Mental Health services in the bush might be a place to start while we wait for committees in Canberra to turn recommendations into real action.
- For immediate counselling, advice and support:
- Open Arms: Veterans & Families Counselling (24/7): 1800 011 046.
- Lifeline: (24/7): 13 11 14.
- Suicide Call Back Service (24/7): 1300 659 467.
- For more information if someone you know might need help, connect with any of the following resources listed on www.dva.org.au. At-Ease: To access information, self-help tools, mobile apps, and advice about how to seek professional help www.at-ease.dva.gov.au. Open Arms, for Veterans & Families Counselling who provide free and confidential, nation-wide counselling and support to eligible-serving and ex-serving members, and their families. Call 1800 011 046 or www.openarms.org.au. Or talk to your local GP
Thanks to Simon Marshall and Holly Taylor for assistance in writing this article.