Minister releases preliminary results of study into veterans’ suicide; but are priorities still skewed?

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan (with Health Minister Ley) has released preliminary results of a study of suicide by Australian veterans. Key findings are as follows:

there were 292 deaths by suicide among people with at least one day of Australian Defence Force service since 2001. Of these:

  ○ 84 occurred in the serving full-time population
  ○ 66 occurred in the reserve population
  ○ 142 occurred in the ex-serving population
  ○ 272 were men and 20 were women
  ○ 66 were people aged 18–24
  ○ 58 were people aged 25–29
  ○ 46 were people aged 30–34
  ○ 122 were people aged 35 and over

after adjusting for age, when compared with all Australian men, the suicide rate was:
  ○ 53% lower for men serving full-time
  ○ 46% lower for men in the reserve
  ○ 13% higher for ex-serving men

there were 23 deaths among ex-serving men aged 18–24, which is a suicide rate almost twice that of Australian men of the same age.

There was no data for people who served or separated before 1 January 2001, so the statistics would exclude most Vietnam veterans. There is a current Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel.

“DVA spends about $187 million each year providing mental health support to veterans and their families and the Government has announced an additional $192 million over the next four years to tackle mental health challenges across our community,” Mr Tehan said.

“From 1 July this year, the Government made mental health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and alcohol and substance misuse free for anyone who has served one day in the ADF. This treatment is demand driven and fully funded, so if someone needs treatment, it is available — it is not limited by budget.

The work on veterans’ suicide is welcome, as is the money spent on it. Nevertheless, comparisons are in order. Mr Tehan is also Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, in which capacity he oversees the expenditure of approximately $330 million of Commonwealth and $90 million of corporate donation money on the Anzac centenary, including $100 million on an extravagant museum in France.

Honest History has been very critical of this commemoration expenditure, partly on the grounds the money would be better spent on today’s veterans. John Bale, the CEO of veterans’ welfare organisation, Soldier On, has made the same point.

“I mean there are so many memorials in this country already. We have the Australian War Memorial, we have the cenotaphs. If you go to pretty much any small town in Australia there is a commemoration facility that you can go to and look at the people that fought in that town,” [Mr Bale] said.

“I think what that money should have been spent on is supporting this generation of veterans. As I said, we have so many veterans that have come back from other wars that weren’t supported well enough.

“We should learn from those lessons and make sure that huge amount could go into supporting them.

Some of the measures announced by the minister have been announced since April when Mr Bale spoke but his remarks then are still relevant.

30 November 2016

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