By Mark Schroffel, Rembrance Day 2020
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester is the master of the “happy tweet”. His Twitter feed offers a daily diet of Gippsland sunrises, digger-themed birthday best wishes and a multitude of #TYFYS happy snaps that showcase the best of daily life in the Australian Defence Force.
While there is merit in his efforts to support the ADF with such positive communications on social media there is a serious danger that the Minister is diverting the community’s attention from the institutional failures within the ADF that are leading our veterans to kill themselves.
Veteran suicide is a serious issue that needs to be addressed seriously.
To date, the Morrison government has been implacably and unaccountably opposed to calls for a Royal Commission into veteran suicides. Instead, it has proposed the creation of a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, an alternative that has been widely condemned as deeply flawed. The government has been predictably deaf to criticism that its appointment of an interim commissioner – a former ADF Brigadier – will have neither the credibility nor the clout required to lay out the issues in broad daylight.
Unfortunately, for veterans and their families the public conscience on days such as Remembrance Day is captivated by the legends and sacrifices of yesteryear not yesterday.
But it was yesterday and today that a family is grieving the loss of a loved one by suicide. And today, Remembrance Day, we can be sure that no one will make a speech about a son or daughter who felt so abandoned – by the ADF and by Darren Chester’s own department – that they lost their own personal war and the will to live.
The harsh reality is that there are few votes to be won by properly supporting veterans and their families and it would look bad if the government and the ADF were revealed to be culpable in the deaths of so many who have admirably served our nation.
It’s amazing how governments will move heaven and earth over the suggestion of someone tampering with well-heeled pensioners’ franking credits, but will stand by gaping when the mother of a lost-soul asks the simple but poignant question: “Why?”
The veteran community needs to mobilise against the political apathy – some would say negligence – before us and demand a change in direction. Our best hope is a Royal Commission that exposes the endemic problems behind veteran suicides so that we can address them and build not just a better ADF, but a better society.
Mark Schroffel is the Editor-in-Chief of Australian Veteran News. Mark is a veteran and has a day-job as 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. Mark can be followed on twitter @MarkSchroffel
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