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Statement on interim Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide report from Darren Chester

Darren Chester says that Australians must use the Royal Commission to seek answers and solutions to the unacceptable level of suicide in the defence and veteran communities.

By news@gippsland - 11th August 2022 - Back to News

I welcome the interim report by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide and acknowledge many of the recommendations are entirely consistent with the bipartisan direction being taken by the previous federal government to improve outcomes for defence force personnel, veterans and their families.

The interim report by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has been released, there’s clearly more work to be done says Darren Chester MP

The interim report by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has been released, there's clearly more work to be done says Darren Chester MP

Opportunity to unite veterans

As I said at the time of announcing the Royal Commission in April 2021, it's an opportunity for our nation to reset the agenda and unite the veterans' community in what has been a very difficult, sensitive and incredibly complex issue for our veterans, their families, and the Australian Parliament for many years.

The ongoing Royal Commission has the potential to be a particularly harrowing and emotional time for many veterans, ADF personnel and their families who have lost loved ones, or been impacted in any way.

I agree with the broad themes in the interim report that additional efforts are required to harmonise and simplify the claims and rehabilitation system, and reducing the claims backlog should continue to be a high priority for the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA). But I totally reject any suggestion that the previous federal government failed to act to improve the system for defence personnel, veterans and their families.

Supporting defence personnel

I said many times as Minister, the only acceptable number of deaths from suicide is zero. That has to be our goal going forward. To provide hope, support, and ongoing practical measures to drive the suicide rate down to zero.

From my experience, the secretary of DVA and her team are dedicated, passionate and determined to make a difference in their work to support defence personnel as they transition to civilian life but the delays in processing claims is evidence of a system under pressure.

Deliver increased funding

That is why I was pleased to deliver increased funding for DVA and additional staff members as part of the 2021-22 budget. I was also pleased to work in partnership with DVA and the ex-service organisations during my time as Minister to deliver many significant achievements:

  • Free mental health care for veterans and their families
  • Funding for eight well-being centres in Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Albury-Wodonga, Nowra, Tasmania, south-east Queensland and Townsville
  • Psychiatric assistance dogs program for veterans with mental health issues
  • Appointment of the Defence Families Advocate
  • Delivery of the Veterans Covenant and Veterans Recognition Package
  • Overhaul of Open Arms
  • Establishment of the Veterans Employment Awards
  • Commenced establishment of the Joint Transition Authority
  • Funded the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial to tell the stories of contemporary veterans
  • Added a question on military service to the 2021 Census
  • Delivered provisional access to medical treatmentIncreased fees for health professionals to treat veterans
  • Improved financial support for veterans undertakng additional study
  • More than $11 billion per year in support for veterans and their families

As a grateful nation, we must always support those who need our help in a timely manner but at the same time, we must promote the many achievements of our veteran community.

Learning from any mistakes

It's important that people are supported as they tell their stories, both good and bad. It's important that we continue to learn from any mistakes. And it's important that we don't feed a vicious media cycle of despondency, desperation and helplessness.

The vast majority of Australian Defence Force personnel will train well, serve well and transition well to the next stage of their lives. For veterans who experience difficulties for any reason, we must give them and their families the support they need in a timely manner.

Naturally, I am very sorry for those our nation has failed in the past and I worked every day as Minister with DVA to deliver pathways to good health, and improved well-being.

New ideas for better system

The interim report by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide is another reminder that more work is required but it would be wrong to suggest we are starting from scratch as a nation.

There are literally thousands of Australians, both volunteers and paid staff members, who are working today to support our veterans and their families. Their contributions are already saving lives and they deserve to be properly acknowledged.

We need to bank the improvements that have been made, and keep investing in new ideas and reform measures that can deliver a better system in the future.

Positive stories and messages

As a backbencher, I want to see the Labor government maintain the momentum for reform and to build on all the good work we've done, while the Royal Commission runs its course.

I have met with the new Minister and offered him my congratulations and personal support for the work that needs to be done. I will continue to promote positive stories and messages of hope for our ADF personnel and veterans, notwithstanding the challenges and the difficulties some may face.

At an uncertain time in our nation's history, it's important to note we have a well-led, world-class, highly-respected, well-trained and incredibly capable Australian Defence Force. We should be proud of them.

Achieving those positive outcomes

Whether it's during conflicts, peacekeeping missions, or humanitarian aid and disaster relief - they are well prepared and well equipped to do their jobs. But it's a job with inherent risks of death or serious injuries, both physically and mentally.

As a grateful nation, we owe them the best conditions of service we can provide, every effort to ensure their physical and mental well-being, and an opportunity to transition successfully to civilian life.

Again, the Royal Commission is an opportunity to unite the military community and political class to achieve those positive outcomes in the interests of all Australians. Open Arms is available on 1800 011 046 to support veterans and their families.

Pictures from Darren Chester MP Facebook page.


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