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.
This solution is a better response than the calls for a royal commission into veteran suicide deaths, spearheaded by independent senator Jacqui Lambie, according to Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester.
Mr Chester and Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan met with ex-servicemen in Port Macquarie on March 4.
On the agenda was the provision of more support for veterans as they transition from military service into civilian life.
Mr Chester is conducting a series of round tables to help shape budget priorities and define the key needs of veterans across the country.
"The overwhelming majority of men and women who serve in the Australian defence force will leave the military with skills for life in terms of leadership, problem solving, great team work ability, and they will transition well," Mr Chester said.
However, figures show that there are more than 58,000 veterans who sought DVA-funded mental health support in the last financial year, with 15 per cent of those under the age of 40.
"For the minority who may be physically injured or have mental health concerns, we have an obligation as a grateful nation to ensure they are properly supported in their future lives," Mr Chester said.
"Mental health issues right across the Australian community have become more pronounced over the last 10 or 20 years as we have talked about it more and understood it better and we've been able to take the stigma away from some of that.
"Unfortunately, it still is a stigma for a lot of young men who are dealing with a mental health issue and what we're providing within the DVA is about $230 million a year to support veterans mental health.
"Our challenge is to encourage younger veterans to put their hand up and acknowledge they could do with a bit of support and recognise there are support services out there in the community for them if they reach out.
"It's a complex area of public policy. People take their own lives for a complex range of reasons. We're constantly trying to develop good solutions and partnerships with the ex-services community because they've got lived experience and they are best placed to help us solve the problem."
Mr Chester said the appointment of a national commissioner offers more "enduring" change than what can be achieved by a royal commission.
The aim of the national commissioner is to 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.
Senator Lambie has strongly argued the role of the national commissioner does not go far enough.
"In the Australian community right now it saddens me enormously that more than 3,000 Australians take their own lives every year. And in the veteran community on average there have been about 35 to 40 per year for the last 15 years," he said.
"As a veteran's minister there is no acceptable level of suicide for me We have to keep pushing towards zero. The policy we've put forward, which has the support of all the major ex-services organisations, is a national commissioner for suicide prevention for veterans and defence personnel.
"That commissioner would have all the powers of a royal commission but have the advantage of being in an enduring policy position. That person would stay on for years to come continuing to hold us to account.
"It's independent of me as a minister and it's a stronger policy approach and will deliver a longer term outcome for us.
"We have too many Australians taking their own lives and too many veterans taking their own lives and it's policy we still have to keep working on."