Veteran Homelessness, Suicide Ongoing Problems in Australia: Commission Hears

Veteran Homelessness, Suicide Ongoing Problems in Australia: Commission Hears
Australian Army soldiers run during Exercise Chong Ju at the Puckapunyal Military Area on May 9, 2019 in Seymour, Australia. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

Australia is examining its handling of veteran affairs and questioning senior public servants over issues such as suicide and support.

Currently, the Royal Commission on Defence and Veteran Suicide is holding hearings for seven days in Tasmania—home to the most veterans per capita of any jurisdiction in Australia, with more than 17,500 veterans.

Kate Pope, the Repatriation Commission deputy president, along with a senior official, will give evidence. The body is in charge of providing benefits and treatment to veterans and their families.

The inquiry had already heard that veterans had difficulty connecting with appropriate services and support organisations—with some bodies stating that they had no information on when soldiers retired.

Peter Williams, Tasmania's northern director for the Returned and Services League (RSL), said homelessness was an increasing problem.

"What we have seen is a spread of veterans through from Vietnam to modern service, and we’ve seen a number of females with children as well," Williams told the Royal Commission.

John Hardy, CEO of RSL Tasmania, said organisations should be able to make direct contact with retired personnel but noted privacy issues.

"This really isn’t about the RSL; this isn’t about membership," he said. "We don’t care that you’re not a member; we care that you don’t commit suicide."

The Royal Commission also heard that veterans with acute mental health issues were forced to travel interstate for treatment because Tasmania lacked adequate services. The body will hand down its interim report on Aug. 11, after receiving more than 1,900 submissions and hearing evidence from hundreds of witnesses.

Veteran affairs advocate Heston Russell has previously told The Epoch Times that retired military personnel often struggle to adjust to modern society.

"The military is fantastic at grabbing someone off the street and issuing them with a collective identity and an overwhelmingly inspiring purpose that hits them at the intrinsic and extrinsic level," he said. "From the way they march you around to the way you wear a uniform and even being called by your last name."

Russell said the military was a “for purpose” and “values-based” organisation where each individual was held accountable to values such as courage, initiative, teamwork, and respect.

"But as many of us transition to [living] primarily in larger cities in Australia, we find that society no longer really values responsibility; it’s replaced with entitlement: 'What’s in it for me? What do I deserve?' It replaces selflessness with selfishness; it’s dog-eat-dog.

"Everything is ‘for profit,’ as opposed to ‘for purpose.’ And it’s a really difficult place to espouse these values, where you are literally the minority as people are too busy focusing on profit, enjoyment, and all these things."

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].