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Veteran suicide royal commission unwarranted, former officer says

Timorese visitors: East Timorese war veterans unite with Australian veterans at this year’s Anzac Day commemorations in Brisbane.

THE Federal Government is considering ordering a royal commission into veteran suicides, but high-ranking returned officer Kel Ryan says the proposal would be unwarranted and costly.

Lt Col Ryan, a Vietnam War veteran and parishioner from Goodna, has been involved in veteran issues for more than 30 years, and said during the last two decades there have been many studies and investigations into veteran suicide.

“Veteran suicide is a tragedy and one that the nation needs to counter but it must be done in conjunction and acknowledgement of these many studies and countless recommendations that have already been completed,” he said. 

“The recommendations from these studies must be implemented.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison floated the royal commission after meeting the mothers of six army veterans who took their own lives.

“I haven’t ruled it out, it’s something that I am actively considering,” he told Sky News.

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, whose swing vote is crucial on controversial legislation, wants to put a broom through the departments responsible for soldiers and veterans.

The crossbencher has not expressly endorsed a royal commission, but has publicly stated she believes the country is heading for one.

However Lt Col Ryan, national president of the Defence Force Welfare Association and spokesman for the Alliance of Defence Services Organisations, said there were more than 3000 known suicides each year. 

“Many of these are young men in their 20 and early 30s, they include police, ambos, firies, train drivers, farmers, people living in rural and remote areas affected by the current drought and so many other men and women, young and old,” he said. 

“Suicide is a national issue and to isolate veterans and to focus on us denies that we are part of the national picture.

“Members of the ADF are drawn from across the nation from the very communities where so many suicides occur. 

“That is the issue that the government, any government must focus on.”

Senator Lambie said there was a “shocking” culture in the veterans’ affairs and defence departments.

“They’re still in denial; what they’re doing is, instead of worrying about fixing the problem, they’re worried about covering their arses,” she told Tasmania Talks on LAFM.

Lt Col Ryan said he doesn’t agree the Department of Veteran Affairs was the issue.

“Yes there are policies and implementation that can be and are criticised at times, and deservedly so,” he said.

“After all it is a 100-year-old government department, a bureaucracy that needs to be goaded and prompted.

“Talk of ‘putting a broom’ through DVA is bravado that denies the positive contribution that the staff of DVA are making at present.” 

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