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Senate urges Government to act on Veterans' suicide rates

Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Greens Defence and Veterans’ Affairs spokesperson, welcomed the release today of the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee’s report into the mental health of ADF veterans.

Senator Whish-Wilson initiated the inquiry in 2015 on the back of concerns about the rate of mental health problems among veterans, including the rates of suicide and the extent of homelessness.

The report shows that the rate of suicidality—thinking of suicide or making a plan—is nearly three times higher among veterans than it is in the general population.

Senator Whish-Wilson wrote Additional Comments for the report and called for the following:

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An annual report to parliament on the ‘state of mental health’ of veterans. Senator Whish-Wilson commented, “We need to keep this issue on the agenda. DVA andDefence need to take a wholistic approach to this complex issue and an annual report to Parliament will compel collaboration and a culture of transparency amongst the disparate groups dealing with this issue. Parliament needs to be reminded of the difficulty so many veterans are having, especially given the expected increase in veterans mental ill health into the future.

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An immediate injection of funding to Homes for Heroes so that the program can properly meet the needs of all homeless veterans. “That any veteran suffering from *mental ill health or side effects such as substance abuse gets to the point where they don’t have regular shelter is an indicator that the system is failing to either identify or properly assist veterans with the most basic of needs.

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The committee to undertake a further inquiry into the capacity of the RSL and other veterans’ groups to increase their rate of funding.

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All veterans to be assigned a liaison officer to act as a single point of contact. “DVA’s claims and appeals system is legendary for being convoluted and confusing. Many veterans are not accessing the help they need because they simply can’t navigate the system.

The inquiry also heard accounts of psychotic episodes among some veterans who were administered the anti-malarial drug mefloquine and questions as to how this drug was administered.

Senator Whish-Wilson said, “To date, Defence has failed to properly account for how this drug was administered, particularly to those serving in Timor Leste. Defence should provide this committee with a full report on the administration of mefloquine and related anti-malarial drugs to ADF members, including the dosage administered and whether informed consent was given.

“Pending the publication and content of that report, the matter of administration of mefloquine and related anti-malarial drugs to ADF members is the subject of further inquiry by the committee,” he concluded.

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Link to the Senate Report is here

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