Veteran suicide inquiry welcomed

Jeb Summers addressing a crowd on Anzac Day. (Lisa Strangwick)

By Oliver Lees

Veterans in Sunbury and the Macedon Ranges have welcomed the federal government’s announcement of a royal commission into veteran suicide, but remain “worried” the process may not be properly handled.

Last week, a royal commission into veteran and serving defence personnel suicides was announced, following a motion that passed both chambers of Parliament in March.

More Australian veterans have lost their lives by suicide than have been killed on active duty since conflict broke out in Afghanistan in 2001.

The announcement followed years of advocacy from the veteran community for a formal review into the services available to defence personnel.

This included an online petition created by Julie-Ann Finney, the mother of an ex-service member who died by suicide, which accrued more than 400,000 signatures.

Save Our Services Australia president Jeb Summers said the announcement was “long overdue”, but is worried that the fundamental issues may not be addressed.

“It’s a very important step that we have this royal commission, but I’m worried stuff will be swept under the rug,” Mr Summers said.

“This process will show some faults in the government’s systems and government’s usually don’t like to show their faults.

“Right now, what’s missing is support services, for example PTSD wards have extremely long wait times.”

Woodend RSL president Ken Bryce described the current framework for veterans as “pathetic” and said he has known many ex-service members that have fallen through the cracks of the system.

“I know one bloke who counts himself lucky because he was too drunk to kill himself,” he said.

“What veterans need is someone to be there, to help them.”

Both Mr Summers and Mr Bryce stressed the need to establish a more robust database of veterans in the community, so that somebody can check-in on their wellbeing.

For many veterans, their primary concern is that “they don’t want to be a burden”, Mr Bryce said.

“All of a sudden their world falls apart and there’s no one to support them.”

Mr Summers added that the current social and legal framework for supporting ex-service members is dependent upon volunteer advocates, who are versed in understanding and unpacking complex legalese for veterans.

But these volunteers are shrinking in number, he said.

Mr Summers said he’s glad that veterans are finally being given a voice.

The defence all-hours support line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families. Contact: 1800 628 036.

Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families via 1800 011 046, or through SafeZone on 1800 142 072.

If you or anyone you know is in need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.