Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide – Newsletter Edition 20 – 2 August 2023 

6 Aug 2023

Commission Chair expresses frustration at delays to Defence’s mental health reforms
The Chair of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has expressed concern reforms to improve mental health outcomes for Australian Defence Force members are progressing too slowly and may not be successful.

Commissioner Nick Kaldas made the remarks on the final day of the Royal Commission’s tenth public hearing block in Adelaide on 26 July 2023.

The eight-day public hearing was told that a lack of communication, changes to organisational structure, and competing and shifting priorities were hindering progress on implementing reforms within the ADF and the Department of Defence designed to improve members’ mental health and wellbeing. “We’re concerned that the internal reforms being considered by Defence are taking too long – and there is no certainty that they will lead to meaningful improvements in members’ mental health and wellbeing,” Commissioner Kaldas said.
Commissioner Kaldas said it further demonstrates that Defence is failing to adopt a ‘people first’ culture. “We’ve heard repeatedly from Ministers and service chiefs, particularly in light of the Defence Strategic Review, about Defence’s people being its greatest asset. One wonders then why more has not been done to address the cultural and systemic challenges our servicemen and women face at every stage of their military career.”
Commissioner Kaldas noted the positive steps taken by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in response to the Royal Commission’s Interim Report, including in relation to harmonising complex legislation governing veterans’ compensation and clearing the backlog of unprocessed claims.

“We commend these steps; however, we know there is still much more to do,” Mr Kaldas said. 

“What can’t be overlooked is that we continue to hear from many veterans about their poor experiences when seeking the support and services they desperately need and deserve.”

Watch Commissioner Kaldas’ closing statement on our YouTube channel.
Royal Commission warns no ‘quick fix’ to national tragedy of Defence and veteran suicide  Royal Commissioners have warned there will be no ‘quick fix’ to the high rates of suicide and suicidality in the military community, stressing that real, long-lasting reform will take strong leadership and time. “While the majority of those in uniform have a positive experience in the Navy, Army and Air Force, there are entrenched systemic, structural and cultural issues within Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that are failing serving and ex-serving members – and, far too often, costing lives,” Commissioner Douglas said. “That’s why we’re determined to make evidence-based recommendations that compel Government to enact meaningful, long-lasting reforms to help make the ADF a safer, stronger, more resilient workplace and an employer of choice – and make a real difference to the lives of serving and ex-serving members, and their families.” Based on its inquiries to date, the Royal Commission has identified a number of major issues and themes, including: inadequate ADF support services; socio-economic risk factors; problematic ADF culture, including bullying, harassment, and abuses of power a lack of continuity of care; issues with reporting and information sharing between ADF, Defence and DVA; impacts of branch of service and the rank of members; lived experiences of family members, as well as family protective and non-protective factors, and military justice. Commissioners noted the complexity of the many issues under examination but reaffirmed their determination to conduct the most thorough inquiry possible in the time available.  “We’re aware that the Defence and veteran community is keenly watching and waiting to see what this Royal Commission will actually achieve,” Commissioner Kaldas said. “That’s understandable given the countless related inquiries that have preceded this Royal Commission… and it’s something that keeps us up at night too.” “It’s important to recognise that there will be no quick fix to these issues – and real, long-lasting and meaningful reforms will take some time. It will also take strong leadership.” He said the onus will be on each and every Australian to hold Government to account — and ensure it acts on the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

Last month marked two years since the Royal Commission was established. As part of our inquiries to date, the Royal Commission has issued more than 900 compulsory notices and received over 230,000 documents in response, received close to 4,000 submissions, heard from some 260 witnesses at 10 public hearings, and conducted close to 500 one-on-one private sessions with people with lived experience. Royal Commission staff have attended a number of Defence Member and Family Transition Seminars
Royal Commission staff have attended a number of Defence Member and Family Transition Seminars The Royal Commission has also conducted 21 Defence base visits, meeting with current servicemen and women to hear firsthand about their experiences of military life; and attended a number of ADF Member and Family Transition Seminars around the country. Commissioners and staff have also met with a large number of community and stakeholder organisations to learn about the work they do to support the Defence and veteran community.
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