How many Australian soldiers would have to be murdered to spark national talk of a crisis? Five? Ten? If a terrorist killed a single serving member of defence personnel, do we really think it would escape the front page news?
We’d know, because we’re a caring nation, aren’t we? We plant flowers by the roadsides of accidents, we mark national tragedies with legacy mountains of gifts, and more flowers, and cards.
But since the beginning of the year, 14 veterans of service in Australian armed forces are reported to have taken their own lives, a number most Australians may be shocked to learn.
This figure’s in addition to the 78 reported to have taken their lives just last year – “reported”, because the morbid numbers are tallied by veterans groups from sources in person and from Facebook, counting lives lost among old colleagues, family members and friends.
Suicide has killed more than four times as many soldiers than those lost in combat since 1999, yet it barely registers in the national consciousness of a country that had a royal commission to investigate four deaths resulting from the poor installation of pink batts.
There’s presently a Senate inquiry into veteran suicide, and it’s just had its submission dates expanded.
It’s received over 300 submissions, and they are harrowing reading. Numerous shared experiences inform the individual circumstances of the deaths.
Post-service unemployment. Financial problems. Relationship breakdown. Injuries and medical issues.
Extreme frustration with the institutional rigidity of Department of Veterans’ Affairs processes, present and historical.
They’re problems, of course, that do not perish with the dead; they are the daily afflictions of the living.
Loretta Somerville is one: ex-navy, and the survivor of a suicide attempt. In 1991, she was serving when she was sexually assaulted off-base by a group that included two of her colleagues