MEDIA – 2SER 107.3 FM – Interview – Veteran suicide royal commission

CANBERRA – 22 MARCH 2021

SOPHIE ELLIS, JOURNALIST: You yourself are a veteran and you come from a military family. Were you aware of the services available to veterans and how to access them? As you were growing up, after you left the ADF particularly, was that something that was of easy access and knowledge to you?

LUKE GOSLING, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: I think it’s got a lot better than it has been in the past, but it needs to get much, much better. When I left, I didn’t have really much of an idea about where to get support at all. I think these days veterans may have a little bit of a better idea, but it’s still not as accessible as it needs to be. And I think that is one of the main issues that needs to be looked at with the royal commission into veteran and defence suicide, because if we can get early interventions and support around our serving men and women, then we’ll prevent those suicides.

ELLIS: Statistically, veteran suicides are increasing, it’s indisputable. Do you believe or have you felt that there’s a shift in the culture of mental health advocacy in the veteran community?

GOSLING: I think there has been increases, there’s no doubt about that, but I’ve just spoken in the federal parliament and I did make particular mention of our Vietnam veterans who really weren’t welcomed home as they should have been and weren’t given the support that they really needed. So comparatively, our system has come a

long way, but we still need this arm’s length review of our veterans support system to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen, particularly as they transition aren’t falling through the cracks.

So the culture, I think, needs to shift to one of more face to face and personal care and personal case management with mentors. I think that really will be the way ahead. And there are so many good ideas in the community that, when considered by a royal commission, will lead to recommendations and actions from the government of the day that will save lives. And that’s exactly what we need.

ELLIS: Speaking of more face to face contact, many veteran advocates have identified that the Veterans Affairs Department has been a cause of distress rather than a means of alleviating their distress. Do you think a royal commission will identify inadequacies in this department?

GOSLING: A royal commission will most definitely hear from many, many witnesses, whether they be veterans, family members of veterans, mates of veterans, about the frustrations and a sense of hopelessness that came from members, whether they be serving or after their service and their interaction with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Let me say, there’s great people working in that department, but the wait times to get that support has really blown out.

And it is something that the Government needs to come to grips with immediately. Regardless of whether the Prime Minister announces a royal commission today or not, it is a most pressing issue that needs to be dealt with immediately.

ELLIS: Also speaking about the access to services, there seems to be a disconnect between the services that are available for veterans and their ability to be able to easily access them. How might this affect the families of veterans experiencing distress?

GOSLING: A veteran’s distress has a massive impact on the family. And that is why we see over generations there being a really significant impact on families. Sometimes families split because of this distress, and an inability to cope. Sometimes there’s violence that’s involved. And that’s why the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service changed its name to the Veterans and Families Counselling Service, because there was an acknowledgement of that, the transfer of distress.

And it’s a fact that the children of veterans are actually more likely to take their own lives because of these distress factors and the effect it has on those families. So moving forward, we absolutely have to make sure that families’ voices are heard and that families continue to get really good support because, you know, they’re the best support themselves that the veteran has when transitioning or after their service.

ELLIS: As you said, we need to make sure that veterans’ families are heard. Do you believe that a royal commission would be the best way for these families to have their voice heard by the Government?

GOSLING: I think a royal commission is the best arm’s length objective way to inquire into what is going wrong, what are the ideas to fix the continuum of support to veterans and their families, and to get the public awareness raised about how significant an issue this is. The overwhelming majority of veterans transition into civilian life, as we call it, and do well. They do really well. But there are too many veterans that struggle.

And without that support, the families need to tell the stories about what effect a less-than-adequate veterans’ support system has on the veterans themselves and, by transference, the family, so that we can fix those issues and get a more coherent, supportive veterans’ support system. And that will lead to better outcomes for the patriots that sign up to protect and defend our country.

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ENDS