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Ex-service personnel face significant psychological challenges when transitioning back into civilian life. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide occur at extremely high rates.

In September 2016, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee began an inquiry into the issue of suicide by veterans. The committee heard harrowing accounts from witnesses about the difficulty many veterans faced in obtaining support and compensation from the government, causing critical stress at an already vulnerable time. Its report, tabled in August 2017, ‘highlighted the burden of legislative complexity and administrative hurdles on veterans’.

Accepting all of the committee’s recommendations for immediate and long-term improvement, the government introduced measures including an interim payment for veterans waiting to have their mental health claims assessed and greater support for their partners and families.

Fulfilling another key recommendation, the Productivity Commission undertook a systemic review of veterans’ compensation and rehabilitation. Its June 2019 report advocated large-scale reform including legislative simplification and improved service delivery.

Michelle Robinson, Marching for Remembrance, Anzac Day Parade, Melbourne, 25 April 2013 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Committee chair Senator Alex Gallacher wrote in a foreword to his committee’s report, The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veterans, that its title ‘reflects the problematic nature of the issue’:

For modern veterans, it is likely that suicide and self-harm will cause more deaths and injuries for their contemporaries than overseas operational service … The effort to prevent suicide by veterans is a series of hidden personal conflicts, cloaked by stigma, unreliable information and the inherent reluctance of members of the defence community to request assistance’.

Extract from the submission to the inquiry by John and Karen Bird (view full submission)

One of the submissions received by the committee was from John and Karen Bird, outlining their fear for the welfare of their son Jesse, an Afghanistan veteran, and their concerns about significant delays in processing his claim for financial assistance.

First page of the supplementary submission to the inquiry by Karen and John Bird, 14 August 2017 (view full supplementary submission)

In June 2017, while the committee’s inquiry was in progress, Jesse Bird took his own life. After Jesse’s death, his parents made a supplementary submission in which they noted that Jesse, whose claim had been rejected in May, had only $5.20 in his bank account.

Jesse's story, while tragically one of many, gained widespread coverage. The Bird family’s subsequent lobbying for parliamentary action contributed to the achievement of successful legislative change in the form of interim financial support for veterans making claims.

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Excerpt from Senator Kimberley Kitching’s report tabling speech, 15 August 2017