Two reports provide valuable insights into veteran suicide

On 29 September, two reports were published that will help the Government tackle the tragedy of suicide in the Defence and veteran community.

One was released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). The other was prepared by the Interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, and tabled by the Government.

AIHW report

DVA commissions the AIHW to conduct research each year to help the Government to understand the incidence of suicide and to ensure programs and services are directed to prevent Defence and veteran suicide. This is the fourth annual update. The report is called Serving and ex-serving ADF members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 2001 to 2019 report.

This research provides DVA and the Department of Defence with an even stronger evidence base from which we can target our efforts to support those most at risk.

This year’s update includes a significant expansion of the study population (from 223,000 to 373,500) and, for the first time, includes anyone with a single day of ADF service from 1 January 1985 who died by suicide between 2001 and 2019. The larger study population enables more detailed analysis, providing greater insight into the risk and protective factors for suicide within the permanent, reserve and ex-serving populations.

This update reports 1,273 deaths by suicide among all service groups between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2019.

Because the ex- population included in this latest update is significantly larger than the previous report, the number of suicides reported in this report has increased. However, the general patterns, including rates of suicide and comparisons with the general Australian population, remain similar to previous studies.

Similarly, the report’s findings are consistent with previous years in terms of those groups that are considered more at-risk than the general population, for example those who discharge involuntarily on medical grounds, younger men, early leavers and those not of officer rank.

Interim National Commissioner’s report

The National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention’s Preliminary Interim Report was tabled on 29 September 2021.

When undertaking her inquiry, the Interim National Commissioner Dr Bernadette Boss CSC conducted many engagements with the Defence and veteran community, government departments, medical professionals and peak bodies. In addition, a broad assessment of previous inquiries, reports and reviews was undertaken.

The Interim National Commissioner’s report provides 41 recommendations for the Government to consider. These recommendations not only highlight a number of areas where improvements could be made, but also a number of positive outcomes that have been achieved as a result of significant investment in reform and new initiatives by the Government in recent years.

Dr Boss emphasises the significance of the Veteran Centric Reform Program, the progress made by Defence and DVA in establishing the Joint Transition Authority and also the benefits we have seen for veterans from the peer support program.

We acknowledge there is still plenty of work to do to further reform and to improve the services and support available to our Defence and veteran communities.  Dr Boss has provided advice on a number of areas on which she recommends we should focus.

There are a number of recommendations that require further consideration by the Government.  The Government has indicated its intention that these will be examined as part of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.


Help is available, including free, lifetime mental health care for anyone with a single day of continuous full time service in the Australian Defence Force; immediate financial assistance for those submitting mental health claims; and case management for those with complex needs. 

Services that understand the military experience are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including:

  • Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling, offering free and confidential counselling to the veteran community on 1800 011 046
  • Safe Zone is available for current and former ADF personnel on 1800 142 072. Calls to Safe Zone are confidential and never recorded.