By Chris Williamson-
The high rate of suicide by current and former Australian Defence Force members has been described as “a national tragedy”, after a landmark report.
A royal commission conducted interviews with hundreds of people over an eight months period.
The grim findings call for an effective framework to remedy the alarming news, by identifying all the causes of the suicide and establish preventative measures to avoid a recurrence of such troubling tragedy.
Only a few days ago, a soldier from Yorkshire England tragically died just weeks after his Army girlfriend was found dead in a suspected suicide at a military barracks.
Bombardier Ross Burnside, from Rotherham, was found dead in the seaside town of Kent on July 19. His girlfriend, Gunner Sophie Madden, 23, was found dead on June 10, while on a training course at St Martin’s Plain Camp in Folkestone. She is suspected to have committed suicide.
It found servicemen and women are struggling with bureaucracy and a lack of support after being discharged.
“It’s devastating that Australia has lost more serving and former serving personnel to suicide than it has lost through operations over the last 20 years in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Veterans Minister Matt Keogh said.
The report found that there has been more than 1,200 deaths by suicide among current and former Australian Defence Force (ADF) members since 2001.
Studies have found veterans are far more likely to take their lives than the general population- a tragic revelation from the report.
Key factors contributing to the sad state of affairs include dealing with physical and mental injuries from service, transitioning to civilian life with understaffed and often adversarial veteran support services, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide found.
Senator Jacqui Lambie was among those who shared their experiences to the inquiry in private and public hearings across the country.
She told how she had written her sons farewell letters and tried to end her life after she was injured in the army and locked into a compensation battle with the government.
“I found it difficult to be able to give a reason… to continue to live, even for the sake of my sons,” she said.
“I had no fight left in me.”
Another ex-soldier told the inquiry how his life unravelled after returning from Afghanistan unable to cope with that he had seen.
In their interim report released on Thursday, the commissioners expressed concerns about “cultural issues” within the defence force and government inaction to address the high suicide rate.
They said “lives and livelihoods depend” on clearing a huge backlog of compensation and rehabilitation claims.
Minister Keogh apologised and promised the government – elected in May – would address the recommendations “as a priority”. It had already hired an additional 500 staff, he said.
The royal commission will hold further hearings before handing down a full report in June 2024.