Ex-servicemen and women are taking their own lives at rates above the general population, prompting opposition calls for a royal commission.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released its third annual update on suicide among serving, reserve and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel.
It found once out of the ADF, men are 21 per cent more likely to die from suicide than their civillian male counterparts after adjusting for age.
This figure is in contrast to the suicide rates for serving and reserve males, which are 37 and 47 per cent lower than the average rate for Australian men.
“We are failing our veterans and we urgently need a royal commission into this terrible scourge,” opposition spokesman for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personell Shayne Neumann said on Friday.
“This latest update is a wake-up call and shows we are losing the war when it comes to saving our current and former defence personnel.”
The data showed the suicide risk was higher in former serving men if involuntarily discharged for medical or other reasons.
In total, there were 465 suicide deaths among serving, reserve and ex-serving ADF personnel from 2001 to 2018.
The bulk of those came from ex-serving army (177), navy (55) and air force (35) officials.
“These numbers reflect at least in part the fact that those who served in the army made up around 65 per cent of the ex-serving population over the study period,” the report says.
Those figures were mirrored over the most recent three-year span, with 88 ex-servicemen and women (58 army, 20 navy and 10 air force) taking their life compared with 35 serving and reserve personnel.
The national health and welfare agency noted the majority of suicides in serving and ex-serving ADF personnel were among men, reflecting the force’s predominantly male population.
The suicide rate for ex-serving women was lower than their former male colleagues but they were still twice as likely to take their life than other Australians.
AIHW spokesperson Louise Gates said the report’s findings would help improve suicide prevention strategies and other ADF services for personnel past and present.
“Further work is underway by the AIHW to build a comprehensive profile of the health and welfare of Australia’s veterans, including those currently and no longer serving, as well as their families and carers,” she said.
Mr Neumann said many veterans were concerned the federal government’s proposed national commissioner for defence and veteran suicide prevention would not have the resources or independence to ask hard questions, which was why a royal commission was needed.
“We need to do a lot more to support our ex-service men and women and prepare them for life after the military through assistance with mental health and wellbeing, employment and housing,” he said.
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Australian Associated Press