Veterans inquiry told ‘harrowing’ stories


A royal commission investigating defence and veteran suicide has been told of “harrowing” personal evidence given in private from around 40 face-to-face witnesses.

The royal commission hearings in Sydney this week will hear from those who have had suicidal ideation and family members of those who’ve taken their lives.

The five-day probe will also turn its attention to matters including negative interactions with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and delays processing claims.

In opening remarks, Commissioner Nick Kaldas told the inquiry that his team had so far conducted around 40 private hearings with those in the veteran community, and had received over 250 applications for private sessions from across Australia.

“During these sessions, we commissioners have been honoured and humbled to hear in detail the difficult … personal stories of those we meet.

“During each and every private session we learn something new,” Commissioner Nick Kaldas told the inquiry on Monday.

“I’m confident we’ll learn much more over the course of the inquiry.”

The royal commission issued more than 150 notices to the Defence Department, the DVA, and “various other bodies”, resulting in the receipt of more than 320,000 pages of material to review, he said.

It had also received more than 1100 submissions from a range of people, ex-service organisations and experts.

“These have been important in helping us to identify common themes and areas for further examination,” Mr Kaldas said.

Counsel assisting the royal commission, Peter Gray QC, said this week’s hearings would address issues of urgency, including delays in processing ADF claims, describing this “backlog” in claims as the focus of the hearing.

He described the backlog as “unacceptably high” and said it had greatly increased since March 2019, with the time taken to process some claims at DVA doubling in two years to an average of around 200 days.

It is also expected to air allegations from army nurses that healthcare standards dropped since the ADF switched health services providers.

Witnesses due to give evidence this week include personnel from DVA, staff from consulting firm McKinsey and medical experts on the issue of veteran suicide, the inquiry was told.

The Sydney sessions follow hearings held in Brisbane in 2021, which were sparked after Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared in March last year he would not block a move to examine the issue of ADF and veteran suicides.

Compared with the general population, suicide rates are 24 per cent higher for ex-serving men and double for ex-serving women, according to federal government data.

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