Male defence veterans are at greater risk of suicide than men in the general population, with those aged between 18 and 24 particularly vulnerable, a new report has found.
The report, prepared by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), analysed 15 years of data to determine the incidence of suicide among Australia’s navy, army and air force personnel.
It found that between 2001 and 2015, there were 325 suicides among people with at least one day of ADF service, with men accounting for nine out of 10 deaths.
David Jamison, the national president of the Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA), said the figures were probably an underestimate.
“This is from a cohort of people that have been screened, trained, conditioned and they’ve gone through a lot of resilience training,” he told SBS World News.
“And still, we’ve got an unacceptable number who, for some reason or another, cannot continue and take this ultimate step.”
The report found that ex-serving men, who accounted for 116 deaths, were at most risk.
Their suicide rate was more than twice as high as those serving full time or in the reserve.
They were also 14 percent more likely to commit suicide than men in the general community.
Of more concern, veterans aged between 18 and 24 were twice as likely to take their own lives than their civilian counterparts, the study found.
Mr Jamison said many veterans struggled to transition from a well-structured and supportive military environment to civilian life.
“The issue then is for defence and veterans’ affairs to help the ex-service community connect with these people at the point of discharge, so they can bring them into support networks of people who have gone through similar circumstances,” he said.
The study, which was commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and updates a 2016 report, identifies several risk factors associated with suicide.
They include involuntarily discharge - particularly for medical reasons - short length of service and being of a rank other than a commissioned officer.
Overall, however, serving personnel were less likely to take their lives than the average Australian.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan said continued support was needed for current and former ADF staff.
"The AIHW study is an important part of the Government’s action on improving mental health and preventing suicide among current and former ADF," he said in a statement.
The issue of suicide by veterans and the adequacy of support and compensation schemes for ex-personnel was thrust into the spotlight by a senate inquiry late last year.
The federal government announced $350 million in May’s budget to help tackle suicide and mental health conditions among veterans.
The package included new approaches to suicide prevention and expanded the range of mental health conditions current and former Australian Defence Force (ADF) members can seek treatment for.
Mr Jamison said there were some positive mental health initiatives in the package, but delivery is uncoordinated.
“There is no coordinaten of what is provided to whom and where those services are being provided,” he said.
"We’ve got duplications, we’ve got gaps and no one at this stage taking any positive action to bring a degree of coordination to what is offered to our people.”
Mr Jamison said it was beyond the capacity of the ex service community and the government needed to step in to help.
For support and information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.