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Interim Report: The Royal Commission into Defence & Veteran Suicide

Interim Report Explained

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide

 

The Royal Commissions Interim Report into Defence and Veteran Suicide was tabled in Federal Parliament this morning and has detailed 13 urgent recommendations.

The Commissioners also made preliminary observations about various issues related to suicide prevention and wellbeing, families, ADF culture, transition and the introduction of a possible body to follow.

Commissioner and Chair Nick Kaldas APM delivered a clear message when he announced the recommendations of the interim report

“making change will not be easy but these challenges are not justification for further delay.”

The 348-page interim report noted that there have been 57 previous reports and inquiries related to defence and veteran suicide with more than 750 recommendations handed down and limited response or action from the government.

 

But what does that all mean and what are the actual recommendations?

What you NEED to know…

 

Recommendation 1- Legislative reforms

The Government should, without delay, implement legislative reforms to simplify and harmonise the veteran entitlement system.

 

Recommendations 2 to 5- Claims process

The Government and DVA should take urgent steps to fix problems with the processing of claims for serving and ex-serving ADF members with a backlog of 41, 799.

 

Recommendations 7 to 8- Claims of parliamentary interest and public interest immunity

The Government undertake legislative reform to provide enhanced protections for ADF members wishing to engage with the Royal Commission and introduce an exemption from parliamentary privilege for Royal Commissions and reform policies and practices to limit public interest immunity claims.

 

Recommendations 9 to 13- Access to information

Defence and DVA to improve access to information for serving and ex-serving members and their families. Serving and ex-serving members have faced barriers in accessing information about themselves or about their deceased loved one.

 

Commissioners Overall thoughts

 

-The Australian government has formally responded to fewer than half of the 57 previous inquiries or reports submitted to them.

-We have found a clear failure of accountability.

– We have found a lack of action in addressing the findings of those prior reviews and inquiries.

-We have found an inability to learn from lessons of the past to inform future practices.

 

 

Future Focus and Next Steps

 

The Commissioners are considering the case for a permanent body to monitor and report on the progress and quality of implementation of the recommendations from the Royal Commission and relevant previous inquiries and reviews. A new body could help to drive reform through a range of possibilities and supporting functions that improve transparency and accountability.

The Full Interim Report is linked below

https://defenceveteransuicide.royalcommission.gov.au/publications/interim-report

 

 

A Little more of the Details Explained

For a little more detail, read the below summary of the 348pg Commissioners Interim Report released this morning via a video message by Commissioner Kaldas.

“The prevalence of suicide and suicidality among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members is something that should concern us all.

Each death by suicide is a tragic event. Each life lost has a profound effect on family, friends, colleagues and the community.

On Thursday, the 11th of August, we Commissioners delivered our interim report to the Governor General, as required by the letters patent. It has now been tabled in Parliament and I’d like to talk through some of our findings.

As the name suggests, an interim report marks the point in time in an ongoing inquiry. It’s the result of all of those who have generously shared their stories and expertise with us so far, through public hearings, private sessions and written submissions.

We’ve made some recommendations that we feel must be addressed urgently. We’ve also made some preliminary observations about a range of issues, including;

*Suicide prevention and wellbeing

*Families

*Australian Defence Force culture

*Transition

*A possible body to follow this Royal Commission

 

We know there are many matters not aired in this interim report, and many other topics that we are still considering, which require further investigation. But we can assure you that we’ll continue to review each submission we receive and consider the evidence and information we gather from hearings, roundtables, private sessions, internal and commissioned research.

While the final report is due in June 2024. We anticipate publishing other reports before then. This includes discussion, issue and consultation papers, and a special report with a recommendation for what should follow this Royal Commission.

We’ve made 13 recommendations in this interim report, mostly relating to veteran compensation and rehabilitation legislation, improving claims processing at the Department of Veteran Affairs and improving access to information.

It’s clear to us that Australia’s veteran compensation and rehabilitation legislative system is so complicated that it adversely affects the mental health of some veterans both serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members and can contribute to suicidality.

We recommend that the Australian Government should, without delay, implement legislative reforms to simplify and harmonise the veteran entitlement system.

Previous reports and inquiries including the Productivity Commission’s 2019 report, have called for this reform. We recognize that making change will not be easy, but these challenges are no justification for further delay.

We have heard from many veterans and families that the claim system is complex and difficult to navigate. Veterans wait for long periods of time to receive a decision about their claims, sometimes more than 300 days.

At the end of May this year, the Department of Veteran Affairs had a massive backlog of 41,799 claims. This must not continue.

We recommend that the Australian Government and the Department of Veteran Affairs take urgent steps to fix problems with the processing of claims poor serving and ex-serving ADF members. We want the Department of Veteran Affairs and the government to eliminate the claims backlog by March 2024.

We want to make sure the government provides the resources DVA needs to reduce the backlog, but not at the expense of other DVA funding.

A policy which has limited the number of Australian Public Service staff DVA could employ should also be removed. DVA should ensure that efforts to reduce the backlog do not reduce the quality of decisions made about claims and do not adversely affect veterans’ experiences of the claims process.

We’ve made initial recommendations to Defence and DVA to improve access to information for serving and ex-serving members and their families. These recommendations are vital. We’ve heard accounts of serving and ex serving members who couldn’t access information about themselves or where families are denied access to information about their deceased loved one.

The complexity and lack of clarity surrounding information access to and from Defence and DVA has become evident to us through our inquiries.

The effectiveness of this Royal Commission depends upon the ability of serving and ex-serving ADF members to share their experiences with us. Just 15% of people who have engaged with the Commission so far are serving ADF members. We want people to know that anyone can speak to us at any time about their experience.

The Chief of the Defence Force has been very, very clear that no one who engages with the Royal Commission will be penalised for sharing this story but we urge the Australian Government to undertake legislative reform to provide enhanced protections for members wishing to engage with the Royal Commission, especially serving members disclosing personal information that could impact their career in the service and serving or ex-serving members whose lived experience is linked to classified or operationally sensitive information. There are existing protections available through private sessions held with Commissioners, but they’re not appropriate or adequate in all circumstances. We’ve engaged with the Australian government since October 2021 to resolve this matter. These amendments should be made urgently.

Claims of parliamentary privilege and public interest immunity have had an adverse impact on our ability to conduct this inquiry. We recommend the Australian government immediately address the barriers to this work which arise from parliamentary privilege and public interest immunity by introducing an exemption from parliamentary privilege for;

 

*Royal Commissions

*Reforming policies and practices to limit public interest immunity claims. These claims have made it harder to hold government to account and ask the hard questions of Defence and the Department of Veteran Affairs.

 

To fulfil our role we must be able to receive evidence about prior inquiries conducted by Parliament and examine government decision making that might otherwise be confidential.

We’re considering the case for a permanent body to monitor and report on the progress and quality of implementation of recommendations from this Royal Commission and relevant previous inquiries and reviews.

 

*The Australian government has formally responded to fewer than half of the 57 previous inquiries or reports submitted to them.

*We have found a clear failure of accountability.

*A lack of action in addressing the findings of those prior reviews and inquiries.

*An inability to learn from lessons of the past to inform future practices.

 

A new body could help to drive reform through a range of possibilities and supporting functions that improve transparency and accountability. In 2023, we will explore this further by public consultation and the release of a special report. This will allow for such a body to be in place by 2024 when this Royal Commission hands down its final report.

The Royal Commission’s terms of reference are detailed, but require us to complete a systemic investigation. We welcome this obligation.

What we have heard so far shows that the problems are complex.

We want to build a comprehensive understanding of both common themes and diverse experiences among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members and their families.

We need to test and retest our thinking on a range of key matters. To help us do this, we’ll listen to as many people and organisations as possible between now and the end of the inquiry in 2024.

This will ensure that this Royal Commission is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real and lasting change so that those who serve our country go on to live long and meaningful lives.”

To watch the video message delivered by Commissioner Kaldas here

 

There is still time to put forward a submission

If you are considering writing a submission or taking part in the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide have a listen to episode 129 of the Military Life Podcast to find out how you can access free and confidential help with putting your submission together through the Defence and Veteran Legal Service.

*TRIGGER WARNING- There is some discussion of suicide in this episode. If this episode brings anything up for you please contact FREE ADF mental health service Open Arms on 1800 011 046 or in case of emergency call 000. If the above article, podcast episode or information has impacted you and you feel you need to speak with someone or access mental health support please consider getting in contact with any of the following support organisations;