Unemployment major contributor to veteran suicide rates, Senate inquiry hears
The inquiry heard veterans often struggle to find meaningful work in civilian life
Of 229 veterans studied, one in four attempted suicide at least once.
The inquiry was told the Department of Veterans Affairs slow claims process harmed veterans
The rate of suicide in Australia is around 12 per 100,000 people, more than double the rate of road accident deaths.
But specialists have given evidence that there is no clear data on the number of veterans who die by suicide each year, and say there is a lack of will to collate the figures.
Dr Katelyn Kerr from the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) told the inquiry the current numbers did not tell the full story.
“Certainly the statistics can be an underrepresentation, because not everyone is reporting if someone is a veteran or if someone is ex (-military) or currently serving,” Dr Kerr said.
“And so that’s difficult. We need a system whereby we know every single suicide whether they are veterans or not.
“Until now, I think there has been a lack of will to bring all of this information together and get a very comprehensive picture of what is going on out there.”
The inquiry has so far heard about a range of contributing factors to suicide in the veteran population, chief among them unemployment and the transition back to civilian life.
“Out of the 229 veterans that we studied, a quarter of these had had at least one suicide attempt,” Dr Kerr said.
She explained that of the veterans she studied, those who had served from the conflict in East Timor onwards were at higher risk.
“The suicidal group were younger, they were involved in more contemporary conflicts,” she said.
“They had worse mental health and significantly they were more likely on TPI (a totally and permanently incapacitated pension) or to be unemployed.”
She told the hearing the process of transition out of the military is far from perfect.
“They’re coming from a really intense, adrenalin-focused profession where they’re representing their country, they’re brave, they’re courageous — and then they’re asked to do a cleaning job.
“They’re feeling betrayed, they’re feeling let down, and a lot of the people I see never wanted to leave the military in the first place.”