Defence and veteran suicide prevention body to take ‘trauma-informed’, family oriented approach under new legislation

By Shannon Jenkins

August 28, 2020

Image: Defence

The government has introduced legislation to establish the new office of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.

The legislation would allow the body to address high rates of suicide among Australian Defence Force members and veterans, granting it with powers similar to that of a royal commission.

Under the legislation, the commissioner would take a “trauma-informed and restorative approach” to investigating the circumstances of ADF deaths by suicide. The entity would be able to continually monitor the implementation of its own recommendations to ensure long-term solutions are delivered, while examining new issues as they arise.

Attorney-general Christian Porter said establishing the office was about being “continually vigilant” in regards to the care and wellbeing of veterans and serving men and women.

“The national commissioner will be truly independent and deliver genuine transparency as it helps to uncover the root causes and contributing factors in ADF member and veteran deaths by suicide,” he said.

“It will also provide the opportunity for families and those people who have been personally affected by an ADF member or veteran death by suicide to share their story in a safe and supported way. Families will be very important to the work of the national commissioner.”

The government has invited public feedback on the bills through a four-week consultation process, with submissions to close on September 24.

Veterans’ affairs minister Darren Chester has encouraged Defence personnel, veterans, their families, and interested individuals to make a submission. He noted that veterans and their families in need can contact the free and anonymous counselling line, Safe Zone Support, on 1800 142 072.

The decision to create the body was announced in February, with plans for the commissioner to investigate more than 400 known veteran suicide cases dating back to 2001. A commissioner has not yet been appointed.

Chester said the new body would help ensure ADF members, veterans and their families have access to crucial support.

“Each year, too many of our fellow Australians take their own lives, and the defence and veteran community are not immune. The death of a current or former ADF member is tragic and it is felt deeply by their family, friends, colleagues and ex-service community,” he said.

“It is absolutely critical that we try to understand all the factors connected to suicide and strive to build a better system of support to ensure our ADF personnel and veterans have the help they need, when and where they need it. There is no single solution to this complex issue and suicide prevention deserves an enduring focus.”

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