For the fallen

Content warning: This article mentions suicide.

Local veterans’ groups are expressing their support for a newly announced royal commission into veteran and serving defence member suicides.

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the royal commission, following lobbying from families of veterans.

Dr Richard Magtengaard is a Royal Australian Navy veteran and consultant psychiatrist who currently works at ANZAC House Veteran Central in Perth. He was among many welcoming the commission.   

“As sad as it is to say this, it is long overdue and needed,” he says.

“As a member of the veteran community and someone who treats veterans at Veteran Central in Perth, we as a collective thank the government for resources and time to be committed.”

There are hopes the royal commission will provide veterans with more support. Video: Kenith Png.

Dr Magtengaard hopes collaboration between all types of veteran services including dental, medical, counselling, aged care and financial will create an environment where more former personnel come forward for help. A cloud-based system is already in place at Veteran Central.

While veteran care systems are making a positive change in peoples’ lives, they are not without their shortcomings. One of the more recent calls into the royal commission includes an online petition which reached more than 400,000 signatures. It was created by the mother of Royal Australian Navy veteran David Finney, who took his own life in 2019.

Data shows 41 ADF personnel died in the 20-year war in Afghanistan, but more than 400 have taken their lives since coming home.

While the evidence shows there are many different reasons why veterans have taken their own lives, a crucial point of focus is the transitional period from service to civilian life.

A wreath at Kings Park. Photo: Kenith Png.

Karyn Hinder is a veteran and founder of WA recruitment agency Working Spirit.

She works to help veterans find employment during the transition period and started the charity because one of her friends had a traumatic experience during her time with the ADF.

“I’ve served with many people that have suffered from their service,” she says.

“Some, unfortunately, that have suffered from their service. And some, unfortunately, have taken their own life from the effects of service.”

There have been dozens of ADF inquiries into veteran issues from sexual abuse to mental health over past decades, but there are hopes the new royal commission will turn over a new leaf.

King's Park Memorial
The royal commission announcement comes a week before ANZAC Day commemorations across the country. Photo: Kenith Png.

“I think over the years, they’ve tried so many different things, and nothing has worked. We’ve had so many suicides. So, by having the royal commission, we’ll effectively put things in place that people will be held accountable for,” she says.

“If it’s done effectively and properly, the outcomes will help future men and women of the ADF.”

If this story brought up any issues for you or anyone you know, Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 13 11 14.