Defence suicides up as report details lessons learnt in ADF's Afghan mission

Defence suicides up as report details lessons learnt in ADF's Afghan mission

SBS World News Radio: New figures show suicide rates among young former defence force personnel are almost twice as high as the national rate. It comes as a report into Australia's involvement in Afghanistan highlights the need for government agencies to work together closely from the outset of future military missions. 

Life on the frontline is tough but for many serving men and women, it's what happens when they come home that hurts most.

David Jamison, from the Defence Force Welfare Association, says everyone who goes to war comes back changed.

"What people have seen and what they've been involved in - it's not normal, it's not natural for a human being, and they've witnessed some of the most unimaginable cruelty."

The first ever comprehensive statistics on defence force suicide deaths show that between 2001 and 2014, there were 292 suicides.

Out of that total, 142 - the majority - were former servicemen and women.

"It's a significant percentage. I mean we've lost more people through suicide than we've lost through the Afghanistan war so everyone gets impacted but there's a significant portion who have difficulty coping."

Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan says one suicide is one too many and that the government is committed to addressing the issue.

"This is the start of an ongoing long-term project which will help us better understand the extent of the incidents of suicide in the defence community and inform our efforts to ensure that people who need help can get it."

But the new figures only include those who joined the defence force after 2001.

The Defence Force Welfare Association's David Jamison says the real number is probably much higher, as many suicides go unreported.

"I mean people do not want to admit that a member of their family or one of their mates has committed suicide. It's not something that people want to talk about. They just mourn the loss."

Australia's engagement in Afghanistan is on the government's agenda, with Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan handing down a report into the country's involvement in the war.

The report makes 17 recommendations, including that government agencies beyond Defence need to be closely involved in future missions from the outset.

Jim Burnes, from the Australian Civil Military Centre, says the report shows what worked and what could be done better in the future.

"It goes beyond conflict. If you look at the lessons that have been identified in the report, many of those would apply to the other events that we're involved in. Whether they be humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, you look at our recent experiences with the cyclones Winston and Pam. I think many of the lessons you see in the report you will see threads of that learning and that knowledge in the wonderful responses by Australia in those instances."

Australia has spent more than a decade in Afghanistan.

Forty-one Australian soldiers died and more than 260 were injured.

The total cost was more than $7.5 billion.

Peter Jennings, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says a key lesson is not to expect short-term solutions but rather be prepared to stay involved long after the conflict has finished.

"If you commit military forces then you'd better be prepared to play a long game because if you're not, you'll be leaving before the job is completed and that's the lesson we are now unfortunately learning again in Iraq and in Syria."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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