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Prime Minister announces permanent commissioner to investigate veteran suicide

Suicide Prevention Australia, the national peak body for suicide prevention, has commended the decision by the Federal Government to appoint a permanent independent commissioner to investigate veteran suicide.

Suicide Prevention Australia has been calling for immediate action on veteran suicide, citing the lack of reliable data and delays with claims processing as two issues requiring urgent attention.

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO, Nieves Murray said, “We recently met with the minister’s office and they clearly listened to us and other people concerned about the veteran suicide rate.

“This announcement means no wasted money on a Royal Commission, instead a dedicated specialist resource to look at the issue.

“Every suicide death is a tragedy and it’s especially tragic to hear that our servicemen and woman, who’ve dedicated their lives to our country, are taking their own lives,” said Ms Murray.

We urge the commissioner to focus on three key issues: collection and collation of reliable data, information sharing across jurisdictions and the compensation claims process. In particular, we are calling for the collection and collation of reliable data at a national level on veteran suicide. The latest available data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that more than 400 veterans, servicemen and women have taken their own lives since 2001 and 2017.

Ms Murray said, “It’s likely this isn’t the full picture as there are significant discrepancies between the data reported by Government bodies and the information reported by advocacy groups. Much of this hinges on every jurisdiction putting in place a Suicide Deaths Register like the registers already up and running in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland.

“We are also calling on the Commonwealth, States and Territories to work together to share the information they hold concerning the services and supports available for veterans. This will assist in targeting services proactively where there are signs someone is in need of support.

“A practical mechanism to support this outcome would be to include within a National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement a requirement for accurate, reliable suicide deaths data,” said Ms Murray.

The Department of Veterans Affairs must improve the compensation claims process for veterans and address systemic delays.

“We particularly need to see shorter timeframes for the permanent impairment application process which can take more than 22 weeks, placing veterans and their families at significant financial and emotional stress.

“I look forward to working with the commissioner and ensuring the welfare of our veterans and service people are at the forefront of the agenda,” said Ms Murray.