MP’s plea for Royal Commission into suicide ‘scourge’
SHAYNE Neumann has marked his 13th anniversary as the federal MP for Blair with an impassioned plea for more action to help the veteran community.
Speaking at the RSL Queensland AGM in Brisbane on Tuesday, Mr Neumann said helping former Defence Force personnel transition into civilian life was still proving to be an enormous challenge.
Veterans make up a disproportionate number of the nation’s homeless, while suicide rates among current and former defence personnel is also high.
In the past month, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported 33 suicide deaths among serving and ex-serving ADF personnel in 2018, and 465 suicides between 2001 and 2018.
The report showed the rate of suicide among male veterans was 21 per cent higher than the general male population, and the rate of suicide among ex-serving women is twice as high as the general female population.
Male veterans who discharged for medical reasons had a 66 per cent higher suicide rate compared to men who discharged voluntarily.
Tributes are flowing for two southeast Queensland-based Defence members and fathers who took their own lives this month.
The deaths of army infantryman Shane Holt and Royal Australian Air Force Airfield Defence Guard Robert Phillips have shocked the veteran community, coming as part of a wave of suicides in the past three weeks.
In July this year, the RSL Queensland reported a 26 per cent increase in inquiries to its homelessness program, 39 per cent growth in its wellbeing services and a 113 per cent increase in employment inquiries.
National figures show about 5,800 ex-servicemen and women were homeless in a 12-month period and one in 10 people who are sleeping rough are veterans.
The recent coverage of the Brereton Report has also put those working in welfare organisations on high alert.
“The year, 2020 has been a very challenging year for our defence and veteran community, as it has been for the nation,” Mr Neumann said at the AGM.
“At the onset of the pandemic, I reached out to RSL National, RSL Queensland and other ex-service organisations like Mates4Mates to see what support was needed and where Labor could assist.
“The early feedback was that more resources would be needed for frontline mental health and welfare services to support current and ex-service personnel, and particularly older vulnerable veterans who were self-isolating and at greater risk of loneliness.
“I then wrote to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester in April to ask him, among other things, to increase the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ fees for mental health services, including psychologists and psychiatrists, to help reduce the long wait times for veterans seeing mental health professionals.”
While acknowledging there was still a long way to go, Mr Neumann said he was pleased to see the Government increase DVA fees paid to mental health, social work and community nursing providers in the October federal budget.
He has called for the Federal Government to also increase DVA fees for allied health workers, including physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
“The release last week of the report by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan was a difficult moment for the nation, and for our defence and veteran community,” Mr Neumann said.
“Labor agrees that the allegations in the report in respect of a few do not detract from the sacrifice of the many who have served our country, and in particular the thousands of current and former soldiers who served in Afghanistan.
“This will be distressing for many who have shown extraordinary bravery in speaking up about what they saw and knew was inappropriate conduct, and for veterans more generally.
“This is why it’s vitally important that individuals and their families have access to all the support services they need.
“Already there have been reports that nine serving and former defence personnel have taken their own lives in the past three weeks alone, which is a tragedy.
“Labor’s view is that nothing less than a full and independent Royal Commission into veteran suicide will let us get to bottom of this terrible scourge and help prevent these needless deaths in the future.”