The tragedy of Australian Army veteran Jesse Bird’s suicide in 2017 has led to an important suite of initiatives to address the 19 recommendations arising from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Defence’s joint inquiry into the facts surrounding his death.
According to the Joint Statement released on 7 April this year, these initiatives have directly assisted more than 7,000 veterans and their families.
Key initiatives include:
The introduction of a new Veteran Payment for financially vulnerable veterans claiming mental health conditions.
The establishment of internal controls to ensure incapacity payment claims are processed immediately upon the determination of the claim.
The implementation of DVA’s Triage and Connect function to identify and coordinate appropriate actions for the management of complex and high-risk clients.
These are important projects that should give some comfort to the veteran community that DVA and the Department of Defence are in the process of making essential improvements to the internal systems, as well as developing means to provide immediate support to vulnerable clients.
In addition to these initiatives, DVA has been undergoing a much-needed “brand” transformation. There is a new look website, albeit with confusing duplications of the My Services and My Account portals, and the highly publicised “new-look” veteran cards.
The rebranding is important because DVA needs to break free of its reputation of being an impenetrable bureaucracy so that it can rebuild rapport with the veteran community and play an effective role in preventing veteran suicides.
Between 2015 and 2017, the suicide rate for male veterans was 18% (1.18 times) higher than that of all Australian males in the same period. The suicide rate for female veterans was a staggering 115% (2.15 times) higher than Australian females.
One of the key challenges in suicide prevention identified in the Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy is that many people who suicide are not in contact with any kind of mental health service in the 12 months prior to their deaths; however, they are likely to have had contact with other government and health services. For veterans, this means DVA has a key role to play and the front door to its services and support programs needs to be wide open and approachable.
We must accept and get past the fact that DVA will always be a bureaucratic monster – just look at the legislation they have to administer. But there are parts of it that can work for the veteran community, and we must do everything in our power to help them achieve the objective of reducing veteran suicide rate to zero.
Mark Schroffel is a veteran, strategy consultant, and researcher interested in veteran support policies and transition programs. He designed and led the Melbourne Legacy sponsored ShoutOUT research initiative to gather insights and stories about post-1991 veterans and their families.
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