'Help Keep Our People Alive': Veterans Welcome Suicide Prevention Plan

Turnbull launches review of mental health services for veteran soldiers.

11/08/2016 4:32 PM AEST | Updated 12/08/2016 9:34 AM AEST

CANBERRA -- Veterans' support group Soldier On has urged the Turnbull Government to deliver on its pledge to do more to save the lives of Australian veterans.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced the government is taking on the "taboo" of suicide and self-harm amongst veterans by launching a review of suicide prevention services and named the defence town of Townsville as the site for a dedicated suicide prevention trial.

Mental illness is a major problem in Australia, particularly with veterans. Soldier On estimates one veteran a week commits suicide.

The chairman of Soldier On, the Former Chief of Army, Peter Leahy has told The Huffington Post Australia that suicide is taking too many ex-service men and women.

Jacky Ghossein JGZ
Former head of the army lieutenant general Professor Peter Leahy

"We think this year alone there's probably at least one a week. But we don't know because many of them fall through the cracks," he said.

"They leave the military. They don't want to go back. They don't make the leap into the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are out there on their own. They are sitting at home on the coach. They are on the piss. They are on the meds. And they are just in despair and depression."

Turnbull insists mental health, suicide and self-harm must be discussed.

"We haven't talked enough about it," he told reporters in Canberra. "There's been a stigma associated with it, a taboo. We are addressing that now because you can't solve a problem unless you own up to its existence. And that is what we are doing."

Turnbull said the government had extended mental health services to ADF members and veterans, "but there is more to do. We need to do that job better".

"Right across the board all of us and I mean all of us, not just governments but all of us need to be more aware of the challenges of mental illness and the debt we owe in particular to our service men and women."

The Prime Minster also described the support for veterans was "one of the most important issues and responsibilities for our government, for any government".

The National Mental Health Commission has now been charged with carrying out a targeted review of the suicide and self-harm prevention services available to ADF members and veterans.

It will have support from an expert panel of veterans and is due to report back early 2017.

The Government had previously announced 12 suicide prevention trial sites for current and former ADF personnel, but Thursday named Townsville – home to the Lavarack Barracks and a large ex-service community - for a dedicated test site.

Leahy has embraced the mental health strategy for veterans as a good first step.

"We think it is positive, but there is much more to be done," Leahy said.

"We need to try to understand what the problems are. How many people are killing themselves each year? And then we can take positive steps to save the lives of our veterans."

The challenge now, according to Leahy, is to deliver. "You can be sure people will be appreciative of this, but they will also be saying 'come on deliver, deliver and help keep our people alive'."

The Prime Minister has promised commitment.

"We have to go beyond the memorials and the monuments and focus on the men and women, the real challenges they face — ensuring that they are supported," he said.

"This is a passionate commitment of mine and my Government.

"For me, this is a case of politics being very personal."

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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