'We're sick of burying our loved ones': Veterans hope national commissioner can reduce suicides

Former soldiers hope the establishment of a permanent national commissioner to investigate veteran suicide will make a difference.

Liberal MP and veteran Phillip Thompson became emotional speaking on the impact of high veteran suicide rate.

Liberal MP and veteran Phillip Thompson became emotional speaking on the impact of high veteran suicide rate. Source: AAP

Liberal MP and veteran Phillip Thompson had tears in his eyes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the creation of a permanent national commissioner into veteran suicide on Wednesday.

Mr Morrison said the independent body will have similar investigation powers to a royal commission in response to years of campaigning by grief-stricken families.  

Mr Thompson, 31, served as a peacekeeper in East Timor before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 where he helped train the Afghan National Army.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison listens to Liberal MP and veteran Phillip Thompson as he speaks at Parliament House in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison listens to Liberal MP and veteran Phillip Thompson as he speaks at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP


He said he feels “every single suicide” on his shoulders as a fellow veteran.  

“Every day I wake up and I remember my mates that have been killed on operations and my friends that have died by suicide,” he said.

“I’m sick of it, veterans are sick of it and the family members are absolutely sick and tired of burying our loved ones and now this is the action.”



The suicide rate for ex-servicemen is some 18 per cent higher than other men, and ex-serving women are 2.5 times more likely to take their own life than most women.

Veteran and Soldier On ambassador Ben Farinazzo.
Veteran and Soldier On ambassador Ben Farinazzo. Source: SBS News


Veteran Ben Farinazzo, who spent over a decade in the Australian Defence Force, knows the dangers of feeling “alone in the darkness”.  

The Soldier On ambassador told SBS News he struggled after seeing the “horrors humanity could inflict on itself” during a deployment in East Timor.

“It left me with some significant psychological scars that I didn't realise at the time,” he said.

“These manifested over the next decade until a point where I found myself on the telephone to lifeline calling for help.”

Mr Farinazzo said he prayed the national commissioner could help stem the tide of veteran suicides.

“More needs to be done so that the young men and women who are out there serving our country today have help for a brighter future," he said.

“I don't want them to go through what I had to go through - it hurts and I'm lucky that I'm not dead - I just want to make sure that our kids, their kids are looked after.”

There were 419 veteran suicides recorded between 2001 and 2017, according to a report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare published last year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Liberal MP Phillip Thompson shake hands at Parliament House.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Liberal MP Phillip Thompson shake hands at Parliament House. Source: AAP


Unlike a royal commission which would be limited to a period of time, the permanent national commissioner will investigate past and future veteran suicides on an ongoing basis.

It will review individual cases alongside state and territory coroners and lead a permanent office tasked with curbing the high veteran suicide numbers.

The prime minister is yet to announce who will fill the new position.

Mr Morrison said the persistent challenges facing veterans meant the ongoing investigative body was preferred over a stand-alone inquiry.

“There will never be a forgotten case,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“We must be eternally vigilant about the welfare and care of those who've served in uniform, even more so when they leave their service.”

Soldier On CEO Ivan Slavich.
Soldier On CEO Ivan Slavich. Source: SBS News


Soldier On CEO Ivan Slavich told SBS News statistics taken since 2001 showed more than half of these veteran suicides took place in the past six years.

“This problem is accelerating and the appointment of a national commissioner is at the right time,” he said.

“What we need to do is bring that number down to zero so that there is no more veteran suicide.”

An initial $40 million has been allocated to the commissioner's office, which will begin by conducting an independent review into historical cases.



It will also make recommendations on supporting suicide prevention, the mental wellbeing of veterans and deliver a report to Parliament within 12 months.

While making clear he would have preferred a royal commission, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has backed the announcement.

The federal government will also establish a new Veteran Family Advocate to represent families impacted by veteran suicide.

Readers seeking support and information about self harm and suicide can contact 24 hours a day online and on 13 11 14. Other services include the on 1300 659 467, and  (for people aged five to 25) on 1800 55 1800. More information about mental health is available at .


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4 min read
Published 5 February 2020 at 4:27pm
By Tom Stayner