More than 370 current or former RAAF personnel have attempted suicide, harmed themselves or had suicidal thoughts since 2015.
In the past year alone, 100 employees suffered a type of “suicide event,” the highest number of all three services.
The findings were among those revealed in the interim report from the Royal Commission into Defense and Veteran Suicide, which seeks to find the causes and solutions to why more ex-servicemen and women are taking their own lives compared to the general public.
Suicide is a serious issue of concern in the RAAF and Greater Australian Defense Force (ADF) with at least 1,600 recorded deaths since 1997.
After the Royal Commission took office, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) published a report – “Australian Defense Force veterans and ex-members who have served since 1985: Suicide Tracking 1997 to 2020‘ – reveals the suicide rates of ADF and ex-ADF employees and adds another five years of data.
“It is important that we have a complete picture of the problem to understand where and how best to direct efforts to prevent suicide and improve the lives and well-being of the defense and veterans community,” the chairman said of the Commission, Nick Kaldas.
According to the AIHW report, at least 1,600 active and former active ADF members died by suicide between 1997 and 2020, with 79 in 2020 alone. The previous report said there had been 1,273 suicide deaths from 2001 to 2019.
The AIHW’s latest findings show that the suicide rates of both males and females in the ADF soldier are actually lower than those of the general Australian population:
- 49 percent lower for permanent male ADF members
- 46 percent lower for male ADF reserve members
However, former ADF members suffer from greatly increased suicide rates:
- 27 percent higher for former ADF men
- 107 percent (or 2.07 times) higher for former ADF women, of whom the Air Force has the most
The report also found that those who are involuntarily discharged due to medical problems are three times more likely to die by suicide than those who leave alone.
“These are not just numbers, they are people who tragically felt they could not go on,” said Commissioner Kaldas, expressing that the quota was a matter of great concern.
“Behind every suicide death are family members, friends and colleagues whose lives have been changed forever.”
The Air Force Association has outlined its primary goals for veteran support, stating, “Any compensation and rehabilitation system for veterans and their families must be ‘fit for purpose’ and recognize the uniqueness of military service.
“Their primary goal is to restore the veteran who has sustained an injury or illness as a result of service to their prior physical and/or mental health and, when that is not possible, to provide lifelong treatment and financial assistance.”
Instead, veterans are too often left to their own devices, struggling to find work without believing their skills are valuable, and losing their supportive network of friends.
In addition to a list of recommendations, such as B. Pressure on the government to implement proposals from the Productivity CommissionA better way to support veterans‘ report, the Royal Commission encourages current and former ADF members and their families to make submissions that would help guide efforts to reduce suicide rates in the defense community.
“We want to learn about all aspects of the military, including recruitment, training, deployment, culture, injury management and the transition to civilian life,” said Commissioner Kaldas.
“It’s not always easy to get in touch, but your story can help us make the changes needed to better support current and former members.”
A former airman, Sergeant Dan Tellam, submitted his submission to the Royal Commission in October. Tellam spent 30 years with the RAAF and was discharged on medical grounds in 2015.
Tellam, who survived a suicide attempt, said that one factor contributing to his attempted suicide was his treatment by senior RAAF officers.
“Even though I loved defense, the way you could be treated was unfair. You could be harassed and bullied on defense [and] it was part of the job,” Tellam said.
The Royal Commission in Defense and Veteran Suicide’s final report is due in June 2024.
If you are affected by any issues in this story and need urgent assistance, please call 000. The Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 also offers 24 hour advice by phone, online and video.