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Why the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is only one piece of the puzzle

By Brett Wild - posted Monday, 22 April 2024

Australia wouldn't be what it is today without the sacrifices of defence force members and their families. With approximately 500,000 veterans throughout the country, many of us know someone who served. Maybe it's your sibling or your neighbour. Maybe you know the spouse of a veteran or someone who grew up with a parent who served. They might even be one of the 85,000 people who are currently serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

What you might not know is how likely veterans and defence force members – and their families – are to face serious social and mental health challenges as a result of their service.

Research shows that male veterans – who make up approximately 90% of the ex-serving population – are at a higher risk of death by suicide than the broader public. The prevalence of mental illness and suicide within the ADF community is so severe that the Australian government is currently conducting a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, with the final report due to be released in September this year.


For those of us in the defence community, the Royal Commission shone a much-needed light on the harrowing reality that too many veterans face. While we applaud the government for taking these steps to understand the issue, the truth is that a Royal Commission shouldn't be needed to understand and address the bleeding obvious: our veterans need our help, and they need it now.

Despite the unimaginable sacrifices made by ADF veterans and their families, many go on to struggle in a world that does not understand or accommodate them post-service. Unlike other countries such as the USA, the Australian government doesn't provide transitional housing for our veterans. Without rental history and amidst the struggle of adapting to civilian life and employment, this means that far too many eventually end up homeless.

This problem is only compounded by the fact that approximately one in three veterans is unemployed. Regardless of how experienced, celebrated, or respected they are in the military community, the truth is that many ADF members lack the formal qualifications and civilian workforce experience to get a reliable and fulfilling job after discharge. Even when veterans do find employment, research shows that it pays on average 30% less than their previous position.

Without a roof over their head or a job that values their unique skills and experience, is it any surprise that Australian veterans experience high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse? Couple this with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that many battle as a result of their time in the military, and it's easy to see how they quickly start to feel isolated and alone.

This only scratches the surface of what Australia's veterans face daily. What we have on our hands is a tangled web of complex and incredibly devastating issues that fail to support veterans as they adjust back into civilian life.

In theory, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) exists for this very reason. They support the health and well-being of approximately 250,000 veterans, and yet this system is often too complex and frustrating to navigate. Poor communication of entitlements means many veterans don't understand what resources and supports are available to them, and DVA staff are often ill-equipped and unfamiliar with veteran experiences to handle such complex situations.


But the blame cannot be placed solely on the underresourced DVA, and it certainly can't be placed on its undertrained staff. With 6,000 ADF members discharged every year, the system is buckling under the strain of the current exit rate.

How can we best support veterans and set them up to live happy, fulfilling lives if the system is not equipped to handle the weight – let alone the severity – of the problem?

What we really need is a systemic change that understands the veteran experience, offers sustainable support, and acknowledges the complex health and well-being issues that they face.

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About the Author

Brett Wild is Founder and Chairman of Taskforce Veteran.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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