The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has made 13 urgent recommendations in its interim report, which was handed to the Governor-General, David Hurley, and tabled in Parliament in Canberra last week.

The Commission Chair Nick Kaldas said suicide in the veteran community was a national tragedy that required immediate action. “We acknowledge every serving and ex-serving member who has died by suicide – each life lived and each life left behind,” Commissioner Kaldas said. “We also recognise those serving or former ADF members who have experienced suicidality.”

Key recommendations include:

  • Clearing the backlog of Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) claims.
  • Simplifying and harmonising complex and confusing veteran compensation and rehabilitation laws.
  • Increasing legal protections for serving and ex-serving ADF members to engage with the Royal Commission.
  • The exemption of the Royal Commission from parliamentary privilege, to make it easier for the inquiry to hold Defence and DVA to account.
  • For Defence and DVA to improve access for serving and ex-serving members (and their families) to their service information, including medical records.

Kaldas said one of the most pressing issues was the unacceptable backlog of DVA claims – almost 42,000, as at the end of May this year – that were still awaiting processing. “We know that the long wait to receive entitlements can have a terrible effect on veterans’ mental health and in some cases leads to suicide and suicidality,” he said. “Behind each claim is a veteran who needs support, and it is gravely important that this assistance is provided as quickly as possible – lives and livelihoods depend on it.”

The Commission has recommended DVA be given until 31 March 2024 to eliminate the backlog of claims and that the Australian Government provide the necessary resources to ensure this occurs.

The Australian Government has formally responded to fewer than half of the 57 previous inquiries or reports submitted to it in relation to matters that relate to Defence and veteran suicide. The Commission is considering what should follow this Royal Commission, including the need for a permanent body to report on the progress and quality of the implementation of recommendations from this Royal Commission and previous inquiries. Further work – including public consultation – will be carried out in 2023 so that such a body can be in place by mid-2024 when this Royal Commission delivers its final report and recommendations.

Other areas of focus for the remainder of the inquiry include suicide prevention and wellbeing, the role and support of families, ADF culture and transition to civilian life. Separate issues not detailed in this interim report may be included in any special reports or recommendations produced before the Commission concludes in 2024.

Kaldas said the welfare of current and former serving members – and the memory of those who had died by suicide – is foremost in Commissioners’ minds. “We will continue to listen, consult and learn. We want to ensure this Royal Commission’s legacy is a vast improvement in the welfare of serving and ex-serving members of the ADF and their families,” Kaldas said.

The Royal Commission will continue to review each submission received and consider the evidence and information gathered from hearings, roundtables, private sessions, internal and commissioned research. “We want all current and former Defence personnel to go on to live long, happy and meaningful lives,” Kaldas said.

The Commission was established in July 2021 to help reduce the devastating toll of suicide among current and former members of the ADF.

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