The number of former defence personnel taking their own lives in Australia is a national scandal but has not been treated as such until very recently.
It has taken many years of fierce campaigning by veterans groups and politicians like Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie to force the federal government to take action, in the form of a Royal Commission.
A national petition calling for a Royal Commission was supported by 408,000 people and helped eventually force Prime Minister Scott Morrison to end his opposition to an inquiry.
The inquiry was announced in April and will publish an interim report in August next year. Then a final report will be produced in mid-2023.
The latest statistics on veteran suicides are even more alarming than first thought. A new report from The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found that 1,273 former and serving defence personnel have taken their own lives since 2001.
This figure is almost three times higher than the number previously reported.
And of course along with that disturbing statistic there are many more people affected – families, friends and colleagues of those who have died are deeply impacted by grief and psychological torment.
This avalanche of suicide is just one of the many costs of war. These ramifications are very often under-reported in our media as politicians focus more on defending their decisions and demonising the “enemy”.
The serious and negative costs of war are seemingly endless – civilian deaths and injuries, massive refugee flows, widespread property destruction, environmental degradation and huge financial costs, to name a few.
But are these negatives properly considered before politicians decide to send troops? Recent evidence tells us that genuine scrutiny does not occur. In Australia the decision is left solely up to the prime minister and a handful of ministerial colleagues. The Parliament has zero say and is often not even afforded a discussion or debate.
We are told that war is an absolute last resort, which is a very sensible approach. But again, recent history shows this is not put into practice. Can anyone seriously suggest that when Australia joined the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that all other options were explored before sending the troops?
If we had a proper system of parliamentary debate, oversight and a vote before joining overseas wars, we might mitigate or reduce some of the negative costs of war.
This view is not about being anti-war or pacifist, it’s about clearly and methodically thinking through the issues before engaging. It’s also about avoiding getting caught up in media frenzies about the need for armed conflict.
If we are going to send our friends, family members and neighbours into a war we need to have very strong reasons, very strong arguments, and it needs to be an absolute last resort.
If we thought long and hard about the possible impacts on our service personnel before we decided to go to every war, perhaps we could avoid this avalanche of veteran suicides.
If you, or someone you know, needs support, these free services are available:
- Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Open Arms (current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families are able to seek this free and confidential support) – 1800 011 046
- ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line (for current serving ADF personnel and their families) – 1800 628 036.