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Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides

The interim National Commissioner, Dr Boss CSC, provided the Government with her report on the work she has undertaken on the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides on 15 September 2021.

Click here to order hard copies of the Independent Review

The revised terms of reference issued by the Government on 8 December 2020 instructed the interim National Commissioner to look into risks, protective factors and systemic issues related to suicide risk among serving and ex-serving defence members, by examining past deaths by suicide, or suspect suicide, of defence members and veterans.

On 6 August 2021, the Government issued supplementary terms of reference. These requested the interim National Commissioner to finalise her Independent Review, including community engagement, and provide a report to Government on 15 September 2021

The interim National Commissioner’s report gives specific consideration to defence service, transition out of defence, pre- and post-service issues, as well as looking into the broader social and cultural factors relevant to suicide risk.

In addition to the work of the interim National Commissioner, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and Phoenix Australia provided technical expertise and analysis in support of the Independent Review.

The AIHW produced a Report of their work, which will be published on the AIHW website.

Conduct of the Independent Review

To support the Independent Review, the interim National Commissioner conducted extensive research, and directly engaged with serving and ex-serving defence members, families, experts, community organisations, Commonwealth government departments and state and territory governments.

Round Tables

The interim National Commissioner conducted 29 round tables across every state and territory. Representatives from 159 organisations attended round tables and provided feedback and expertise on matters relating to mental health and suicide in the serving and veteran community. For more information and to read summaries from the round tables please visit the Round Tables page of our website.

Direct Engagement with Defence Members, Veterans and Families

In conducting her work, the interim National Commissioner took a trauma-informed, restorative and culturally appropriate approach to support the contribution of interested members of the Defence and Veteran community to come forward and participate in her work. This included allowing defence members, veterans and their families to contact the Office of the National Commissioner to share their stories in their own time.

The Office of the National Commissioner engaged with over 400 veterans, serving members and families impacted by defence and veteran deaths by suicide, with many attending round tables, or meeting privately with the interim National Commissioner to share their personal stories.

The interim National Commissioner met with people in every state and territory, as well as holding a number of virtual meetings in order to continue meeting with interested stakeholders impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. The courage that serving members, veterans and family members showed in sharing their story with Dr Boss has provided invaluable insight that greatly assisted her in providing recommendations to the Government to focus the effort of reducing suicide in the Defence and Veteran community.

The interim National Commissioner also met with a number of veterans and service providers through site visits. Site visits allowed the interim National Commissioner to gain a deeper understanding of the scope and importance of services being made available to veterans and their families. A brief summary of some of the site visits is provided below:

The interim National Commissioner spoke to operators about their work in providing emergency housing and support including referrals for veterans and their families.

The interim National Commissioner spoke to veterans about wellbeing and rehabilitation services for veterans and their families.

The interim National Commissioner met with the Regional Coordinator to discuss the Standby Program. The Standby Program is a nationally recognised suicide postvention program dedicated to assisting people and communities bereaved or impacted by suicide.

The interim National Commissioner listened to veterans about their experiences with DVA and their service.

The interim National Commissioner spoke with six veterans about their individual stories and how equine therapy can assist managing illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety and depression.

CHIA and RSL Care discussed work being done to improve access to housing for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The meeting provided insight into various programs being run to improve access to housing for veterans, including the Andrew Russell Veteran Living Program. Additionally, critical issues facing homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness were brought to the attention of the interim National Commissioner.

The interim National Commissioner met with veterans and their service dogs to learn about the impact of service animals on reducing symptoms of PTSD.

The interim National Commissioner learnt about the unique challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans and what supports are available to them.