Powerful new measures to tackle military suicides revealed
A POWERFUL new national body will be created as a "permanent shield" against the scourge of military suicides, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing unprecedented measures in response to a rallying cry from the families of fallen veterans.
The Townsville Bulletin can reveal the Federal Government will today announce it is going further than a royal commission, instead establishing a "National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention" - a position with the same powers as a standing royal commission but instead of looking backwards will be a permanent ongoing watchdog to examine military suicide issues as they arise.
It is a victory for the families of fallen Defence personnel who have been campaigning for a royal commission into the causes behind why more than 400 veterans have taken their lives since 2001.
Herbert MP Phillip Thompson, a former soldier who was awarded an OAM for his service to the welfare of veterans, said the measures were what his ex-Defence colleagues had wanted but didn't have a name for until now.
"I want to see action, because I'm sick and tired of burying my mates, and the veteran community and their families are sick and tired of burying their sons and daughters," he said.
Prime Minister Morrison revealed the government will make an initial investment of $40 million, but would funnel as much money as required to get the job done.
"I believe what we have developed addresses the needs of those veterans, their families and our serving men and women," he said.
"It's all about being permanently vigilant about their welfare."
The National Commissioner will be independent, operating at arms length from the Defence Force and the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and will have the authority to compel witnesses and evidence, and prosecute those that do not comply with investigations.
One of its first tasks will be to conduct a review of historical veteran suicide cases to better understand systemic factors, and give families the opportunity to tell their stories in a supportive setting, with a focus on restorative justice.
An interim report will be delivered within 12 months and a final report within 18 months.
It will be able to investigate individual cases of suspected and attempted suicide of current or former Defence personnel, as well as make broader recommendations to support suicide prevention efforts and improve the mental health.
Each year the National Commissioner will deliver a Veteran and Defence Suicide Death Report to parliament, as well as having responsibility to monitor the implementation of recommendations and evaluating the impact of these on reducing suicide risk factors.
The government will also establish a new Veteran Family Advocate to draw on the advice of families of veterans to help shape veteran policy and the administration of veteran benefits and support, with a focus on mental health and suicide prevention, particularly during transition from the ADF.
Forever vigilant for those fallen soldiers
Private Bradley Carr was born on Remembrance Day and took his own life on Anzac Day.
The 34-year-old was a war veteran whose final years were plagued by the torment of fighting bureaucrats, and by pain from his injuries and trauma sustained from witnessing horror while on deployment, and the loss of his friend Private Benjamin Ranaudo in Afghanistan.
His mother Glenda Weston, who lives in Charters Towers, said her son struggled with the DVA for six years after his discharge in 2012 trying to get a health care Gold Card.
Mrs Weston joined the call for a royal commission into hundreds of military suicides last year.
In 2017, Mr Carr finally received mental health treatment before taking his life this year on Anzac Day. He only received his DVA Gold Card in 2018.
The boy from Charters Towers, Bradley Carr, had joined a number of veterans and defence force personnel who had lost their fight with mental health.
Veteran Jesse Bird, a former private who deployed to Afghanistan, took his life in 2017, a month after he was rejected by DVA for permanent incapacity payments to treat his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The 32-year-old was found dead with his government rejection letter in a Melbourne apartment in June 2017.
An inquiry into his death heard there were failures on the part of DVA with the former soldier warning the department he was suicidal and facing severe financial hardship. He died with just $5.20 in his bank account.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, helicopter pilot Captain Steven Fazel died by suicide in December, 2019 aged 49-years-old.
Captain Fazel deployed on multiple rotations to Afghanistan and was the recipient of the United States Air Medal in 2009. His brother Greg Fazel called for more support for defence force personnel and said the Government needed to do a better job of reintegrating transitioning personnel back into the society.
If you or someone you know needs help, phone Open Arms Veterans and Families 24/7 Counselling on 1800 011 046 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.