PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ordered a review into veterans’ suicide prevention services after admitting “we need to do a better job, right across the board”.
Experts along with current and former Defence members will join the National Mental Health Commission in reviewing self-harm and suicide prevention services.
The announcement was rushed ahead of a major investigation into military suicide, to be published in the Sunday Herald Sun and News Corp newspapers across Australia. A suicide prevention initiative would also be trialled for Australian Defence Force personnel in Townsville — one of 12 sites promised before the election.
Health Minister Sussan Ley revealed the government did not know how many veterans had taken their lives.
“Obviously we don’t know at the moment the fate of every particular veteran who has died and the exact circumstances,” she said.
Leading psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry said understanding the number of deaths was “critical”.
“The fact that the national suicide toll is increasing significantly, that’s galvanising,” he said. “They’re not just numbers, they’re people.”
The announcement of a review follows a Senate inquiry report into ADF and veterans mental health in March, the establishment of the Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on veteran mental health in 2014, a report into the care of ADF personnel in 2013 and an independent study on veteran suicide in 2009.
“I think we need to have action now,” said Allan Thomas, the national president of Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association. “The department is failing in its duty of care. The numbers (of PTSD) in the defence force is quite significant.”
The review will consider the services available, how effective they are for Defence personnel during their service, through transition and into civilian life.
The reporting of and incidence of suicide among Defence personnel and veterans compared with the Australian community will be a focus.
Mr Turnbull will host the first Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Initiative in November, gathering business leaders and veterans to work out how best to use our servicemen and women’s skills and leadership when they transition to civilian life.