Veteran suicide spike sparks demand for royal commission

FIX THE BROKEN: A rise in veteran suicides has sparked a ground-swell of voices demanding a royal commission. Photo: Shutterstock
FIX THE BROKEN: A rise in veteran suicides has sparked a ground-swell of voices demanding a royal commission. Photo: Shutterstock

The apparent spike in veteran suicides across the nation are rightly being described as a 'national disgrace'. The massive negative impact on mental health that service life can have on our men and women in uniform is not a new phenomenon, so you'd think that we would now be in a position to understand it and take preventive and healing measures.

It is also important to note that, by necessity, training for conflict often places service personnel well outside their physical and mental comfort zone. I make this point because it should be understood that work-related mental health issues among service personnel are not always linked to combat.

There are likely to be many factors that have now brought this issue into the national spotlight. The systematic failures that seemed to have been implicit in the suicide of Petty Officer David Finney have cast a spotlight on an issue that society has been partially blind to for a long time. There is a ground-swell of voices demanding a royal commission into veteran suicides, a ground-swell that is arguably 40 years in the making.

Arguments for and against a royal commission are both compelling.

The minister for Veterans Affairs, Darren Chester, has drawn considerable flak for stating that he does not see the need for a royal commission and would rather see the money (quoted as around $100 million) being spent on frontline services for veterans and their families. The government is unable to determine accurate figures on the number of veteran suicides or the number of veterans for that matter.

President of RSL NSW, James Brown, has come out swinging in relation to this issue and for him it is personal. Veteran suicide has touched his life as he has had mates take their own lives following operational service. Mr Brown has very much put the Morrison Government on notice to have this item firmly on the agenda. He also points to the fact that our government does not have the figures on this issue and considers the fact that they have relied on word of mouth as being unacceptable. Mr Brown proposes that the next census should be designed to do more to harness accuracy in figure on just how many veterans are out there.

For the veterans community and the Australian people in general the challenge is not to let this issue go away without resolution.

There are pros and cons to a royal commission however, unless it came up with answers, then it may prove to be a distraction and a potential waste of resources.

On the other hand, if it were able to come up with strategies to stem the tide on veteran suicides then perhaps it is the right path. Royal commission or not, the fact is that one veteran suicide is one too many. We the people should have sorted this out when we collectively realised the way we treated our Vietnam Veterans was not good enough and now we finally embraced them.

Alas, we did not learn a lesson and now we are treading a familiar path. The cold hard fact is that the human race will continue to find ways to disagree to the point where we fail at diplomacy and we will, again and again, send our service men and women to fight, keep the peace and protect the innocent.

We owe it to those who we put in harms way in our name to fix them when they are broken and to standby them when they hurt. Lest we forget.