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Register important step in shining light on veteran suicide

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Slater and Gordon Military Compensation Lawyer Brian Briggs has hailed a Senate Committee recommendation for the implementation of a Veteran Suicide Register as a step in the right direction.

Last week the committee published its recommendations, which included the introduction of a suicide register – to be maintained by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) – in a bid to get a better understanding of the number of veterans and ex-service personnel taking their own lives.

Mr Briggs presented to the committee’s Senate hearing: Suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel in February this year, highlighting the lack of understanding the Government and Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) had on the issue.

At the inquiry, Mr Briggs suggested data – to be collected by the AIHW – “needed to be gathered on a regular basis and made publicly available in a de-identifiable format.”

Last week, Mr Briggs said there had been a number of suicides – discussed on Facebook veteran sites – which the DVA may not be aware of due to a lack of a register.

He said in some cases veteran suicides could be confirmed by monitoring funeral expenses and war widow pension claims.

“A register is the only way that the extent of the issue can be properly quantified and understood, and then steps toward a meaningful solution strategy can be taken,” Mr Briggs said.

“Clearly, this is an extremely serious issue that our governments do not know the full extent of. “Our veterans and ex-service personnel are taking their lives and in most cases it’s because of injuries they’ve sustained during their service.”

In an AIHW report included in the committee report, it was noted that between 2001 and 2015 there had been 325 recorded suicides by people with at least one day of service in the Australian Defence Force.

Of those deaths, 51 per cent (166 people) were of people no longer serving, 28 (90) per cent of people serving full time and 21 per cent (69) serving in the active and inactive reserves. A total of 93 (303) per cent were men and 7 (22) per cent were women.

However, Mr Briggs said there had definitely been more than 325 veteran suicides during that 14-year period, from information he had received through veterans and their loved ones.

During his presentation, Mr Briggs also:

  • Recommended the introduction of 90-day time limits for the DVA to decide on accepting a veteran’s claim for compensation and reconsideration of decisions. 
  • Questioned why advocates and not lawyers were only permitted to represent veterans in the Veterans Review Board, describing it as a “David vs Goliath battle”.