Ministers from five countries, including Australia, will meet in London this week to explore challenges faced by contemporary veterans, and how governments can improve support services to help them achieve a fulfilling post-service life.
Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Minister Dan Tehan said the International Ministerial Conference on Veterans’ Issues would provide an opportunity to gain insights, in particular, into how our partner nations – Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States – deal with mental health issues and suicide prevention.
“As well as learning from the experiences of other nations, Australia will contribute significantly to conference discussions, with presentations on the topics of Barriers to effective mental health care and Current rehabilitation initiatives and proactive intervention for veterans,” Mr Tehan said.
“Ensuring we meet the mental health needs of those who have served our country, and their families, is a fundamental priority for the Turnbull Government.
“We recognise the importance of veterans seeking treatment as early as possible to achieve the best recovery outcomes, which is why in the 2016 Budget the Government expanded eligibility for non-liability health care for certain mental health conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance abuse to anyone with one day of full time service in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).”
In the 2017–18 Budget the Turnbull Government expanded this to cover all mental health conditions.
These arrangements mean there is no requirement to establish a causal link between a person’s military service and a mental health condition. Treatment is available to anyone who has served one day full-time in the ADF.
Treatment is fully funded and uncapped – if an eligible veteran needs treatment, the Government will pay for it.
“One suicide is one too many and being transparent about the mental health challenges facing serving and ex-serving Australian Defence personnel is vital,” Mr Tehan said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2015 there were more than eight deaths by suicide in Australia each day. Tragically serving and ex-serving Defence personnel are not immune from this.
In seeking to further address this issue, the Government commissioned the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to provide the first accurate, robust data ever produced on suicide among the serving, reserve and ex-serving populations.
This work was done independently of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and has produced figures on ADF and veteran suicide based on information provided by state and territory coroners.
The Government also commissioned the National Mental Health Commission to review the suicide and self-harm prevention services available to former ADF members and their families. This helped inform the allocation of new funding of $58.6 million in the recent Budget for a range of new mental health initiatives.
Mr Tehan said that as a result of these studies we have a greater understanding of where and how to help those who are struggling, but as always there is more work to be done.
Statistics relating to Australia’s approach that will be shared at the conference, include:
• Between 2001 and 2015 there were 325 certified suicide deaths among people with at least one day of ADF service. In 2015 there were 25 certified suicide deaths among ex-serving Defence personnel.
• Between 2001 and 2015, there were 166 certified suicide deaths among ex-serving Defence personnel. Ex-serving men aged 18–24 were at particular risk—two times more likely to die from suicide than Australian men of the same age.
• Service characteristics that may be associated with the higher rate of suicide in ex-serving men included: involuntary discharge—particularly medical discharge, short length of service (less than one year) and rank other than a commissioned officer.
• 4,414 veterans had access to PTSD treatment under non-liability health care provisions as at 31 March 2017.
• 1,599 veterans had access to alcohol dependence and abuse treatment under non-liability health care provisions as at 31 March 2017.
• With regard to Australia’s longest running military conflict, the war in Afghanistan, DVA has accepted the claims of 1,590 veterans with service-related PTSD since 11 October 2001. The total number of claims determined was 1,634.
• DVA has also accepted the claims of 543 veterans with service-related alcohol dependency and abuse since 11 October 2001. The total number of claims determined was 576.
Mr Tehan said continuing research and engagement across Australia with ex-service organisations, Defence organisations and with partner countries was an important part of the Government’s action on improving veterans’ mental health and reducing the incidence of suicide among current and former members of the ADF.
“The Government is committed to addressing suicide and the devastating impact it has on our community. We all have a role to play in encouraging anyone, including our ex-serving men and women, to seek assistance when they need it,” Mr Tehan said.
Note: An individual can submit a claim for more than one condition. There is an overlap between claims for PTSD and alcohol dependency.
18 July 2017
Minister Tehan’s Office: Amelia Gard, 0428 262 894
Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203
Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 45 46). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.