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Australia’s most decorated former soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith, has gone on record saying that he wouldn’t recommend young Australians join the Australian Defence Force under its current leadership, slamming Defence for its lack of support for veterans.
Roberts-Smith's comments come as Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester reportedly told a grieving Adelaide mother, whose son took his own life in February this year, that he would not support a royal commission into veterans suicides, saying it would "bog the DVA down for two years".
David Stafford Finney committed suicide earlier this year as a result of post traumatic stress from over two decades in the Royal Australian Navy, with his mother Julie-Ann Finney campaigning since for a royal commission into ex-service personnel taking their own lives.
At the time of writing, nearly 265,000 signatures have been registered for Finney's petition into pushing for a royal commission.
"He desperately wanted to stay alive, but David was failed by a broken system that is seeing more than one veteran a week take their own life. More than one death a week. That’s why I am calling for an urgent royal commission into veteran suicide rates," Finney's petition reads online.
"This petition is about the systemic failures the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), who had numerous opportunities to save my son and they failed. David was just one of too many veterans losing their battle with PTSD. This failure has created a whole new warzone for our veterans, one they can’t come home from."
The issue is also one being raised by Australia's most decorated former soldier, who has only recently been contacted for his first welfare check since leaving the Australian Army in 2012, and which Roberts-Smith said only came about due to his comments publicly criticising the current leadership of the ADF.
“My opinion is the Australian Defence Force needs good young Australians … but when you look at what is happening at the moment it gives me pause to think, ‘Is it a good option for somebody to do that’, knowing that at any point you could be injured, leave and not be supported in a way that is expected and that you should be supported because you have chosen to serve,” Roberts-Smith said last week.
“So from my perspective at the moment, it would take serious consideration before you would be advising people to [join the ADF]." [emphasis mine]
The Victoria Cross recipient went on further to say that he believes the current leadership regime should be replaced immediately.
Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James last week went on record himself to say that there was evidence of a need for a royal commission into veteran suicide, but stopped short of endorsing one himself.
"It really wouldn't matter to some fair extent which government's in power or who's at the top of the bureaucracy of the Defence Force, the problem is the law," James said.
"The ADA is of the view, and it's one shared by a lot of young veterans, that the royal commission wouldn't hurt."
James also suggested that cultural changes between generations of service personnel also made it more difficult for effective treatment across the board for veterans, noting that Vietnam veterans and Iraq or Afghanistan veterans could have very different ways of coping with post traumatic stress.
Earlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a new Veteran Card for former service personnel, which it said aimed to show Australia's respect and recognition for veterans.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians had a great deal of respect for those who have served our nation in the uniforms of the Navy, Army and Air Force, and through the Veteran Card, veterans would have access to more than 10,000 offers from around 500 businesses, both over the counter and online.
“Much like the lapel pin gives every day Australians the opportunity to recognise veterans and thank them for their service, the offers available through the Veteran Card allow the business community to show its thanks,” the Prime Minister said following its launch.
“The broader recognition package we’ve developed, which includes the Veterans Covenant, the lapel pin and card is a way each and every one of us, including the business community, can say to our veterans ‘thank you for your service’.”
However, the card's have been somewhat ill received among veteran circles, who while grateful of the new cards, also believe more should be done to support ex-service personnel transition to civilian life.