AUSTRALIAN war widow Gwen Cherne says new, expanded data on veterans suicides does not significantly change what we know about the "who and why".
Ms Cherne said what the data does highlight is the need for authorities to better improve transition for defence force personnel and their families in separation from active duty.
This echoes what Ballarat veterans mental health advocate John Shanahan and the annual Walking off the War Within event, established in Ballarat, has long promoted for defence and emergency services personnel.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's annual report on Australian Defence Force suicides, released on Wednesday, was broadened to include ADF members who had served at least one day since January 1, 1985 and died by suicide between 2001 to 2019.
This number stands at 1273 lives lost.
AIHW researcher Louise Gates said general rates of suicide compared to the general Australian population had not changed, despite the larger data window.
Ms Gates, in a media briefing on Tuesday, said the data only told some of the story in a "very complex" issue.
Suicide deaths for permanent and reserve ADF male members was about 50 per cent lower than the general population but the rate was 24 per cent higher for ex-servicemen and twice as high for ex-serving females.
Deaths were significantly higher for ex-serving males who had served for less than one year and for those who had left involuntarily, such as for medical reasons.
Ms Cherne, whose husband died by suicide and whose son was serving, was appointed as Australia's Veterans' Families Advocacy Commissioner in August 2020.
She said while defence organisations might be working on change and improved support, we need to keep exploring other solutions.
She said the data was just "another piece of the puzzle".
It's such a complex issue and there can be a combination of cumulative factors...I refer to those as layer upon layerGwen Cherne, Australian Veterans' Families Advocacy Commissioner
"It's not a one-size fits all. Suicide, as we all know, is incredibly complex," Ms Cherne said.
"Take a second to consider who a person who served their country, risked their life, survived, returns home and then takes their own life.
"It's such a complex issue and there can be a combination of cumulative factors that lead to someone deciding to end their own life - service related, exposure to trauma - I refer to those as layer upon layer."
From a family perspective, Ms Cherne said protective factors needed to focus on cohorts "we already knew were at risk", backed by the data, instead of looking as veterans as "islands.
Mr Shanahan, who talks and walks with veterans across the nation, has constantly warned Australia did not have time on its side.
"I feel very strongly that we need to wrap our arms around veterans - they don't want to be handed phone numbers to call. These are highly vulnerable people," Mr Shanahan told The Courier in July. "...Working with veterans is fine, but it is actually about solving the problems."
Mr Shanahan had hoped the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide would force the federal government to really look at the issue because he believed an increasing number of suicides showed existing supports were not working.
Defence force personnel, veterans and families can call the following for support. Help is not limited to:
- Open Arms: 1800 011 046, openarms.gov.au.
- ADF all-hours support line: 1800 628 036
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.