‘There is a wave of sadness coming our way, and the system…needs to be ready for it.’
Major-General John Cantwell
Last weekend, Australia commemorated the end of Operation Slipper and welcomed home the 34,500 personnel who served in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Services all around the nation highlighted the dedication, courage and sacrifice of those who served; and honoured and remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Lest we forget.
It was a time for reflection and thanks. And a time to pledge our support to the wounded and all those who have come back to Australia forever changed by what they have experienced.
This week in Parliament I spoke on the issue of mental health in the Australian Defence Force, following a statement by Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert.
It is impossible to exaggerate what we owe to our service personnel and their families, and the civilians who served in Afghanistan.
That’s why we must provide the best mental health management to reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, ultimately, suicide.
Since January 2000, 106 full-time serving Defence members are suspected or confirmed to have died by suicide.
While there are no accurate statistics about how many former members have committed suicide, recent reports claim that almost 200 Afghanistan war veterans have taken their own lives, and another 2,600 have been confirmed as suffering from PTSD.
More needs to be done to address this lack of information.
Over the past six years, the Department of Defence and Department of Veterans' Affairs have put an enormous amount of effort into improving the understanding of, and screening for, mental health conditions, -particularly PTSD- as well as preventing and treating such conditions.
But there is much more work to be done.
We must ensure that DVA and Defence are adequately funded to provide the rollout of their many excellent programs. And we must ensure that the systems they have are talking to each other and are working together seamlessly.
We must also acknowledge and support the great work of community organisations like the RSLs, Soldier On, Young Diggers, the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia, the Vietnam Veterans Association and Mates4Mates, as well as the Defence Community Organisation and the Defence Families Association.
And we must constantly work to reduce stigma and normalise mental illness.
It is our national mission to ensure that those who have served our nation in a military and a civilian capacity have access to the best possible care.
Because as the problem grows, so must our response.