Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the appointment of a permanent independent commissioner to investigate veteran suicide. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the appointment of a permanent independent commissioner to investigate veteran suicide. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

$40m bid to prevent veteran suicides welcomed

THE establishment of a $40 million National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention has been welcomed by Toowoomba veteran and Toowoomba United RSL Sub Branch treasurer Dieter Hitchins. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the initial investment of $40 million into the position on Wednesday. 

One of the commissioner's first tasks will be to conduct a review of veteran suicide cases to better understand systemic factors, and give families the opportunities to tell their stories in a supportive setting.

An interim report will be delivered within 12 months and a final report within 18 months. 

The commissioner will be able to investigate individual cases, as well as make broader recommendations to support suicide prevention efforts and improve mental health. 

More than 400 veterans have taken their lives since 2001. 

Mr Hitchins said that as a representative of the RSL, he was very supportive of anything that helped veterans of all ages. 

Speaking on a more personal level, Mr Hitchins said both his grandads and his father had served in the armed forces, and he remembered his father telling him of his grandad's reluctance to talk about the war. 

Dieter Hitchins  Sub Branch member. RSL . February 2019
Dieter Hitchins Sub Branch member. RSL . February 2019 Bev Lacey

"Clearly (he) saw some horrible things that I guess (he) basically tried to lock away and not allow to surface." 

Mr Hitchins said while there was more support for veterans now than there once was, the big problem still was getting people to reach out, and getting people to acknowledge they needed help. 

He pointed to his own 12 years of service in the air force as an aircraft spray painter. 

While he never went overseas, he had a couple of bad falls and got injured. 

When he left the air force, he didn't realise he was starting to show signs of depression. 

His experience mirrors that of a number of former servicemen and women. 

"When I got out - it's hard to explain. It was a huge culture shock," he said. 

 

"The sense of camaraderie and the sense of family (that comes from being part of the armed forces), all of a sudden it's ripped away." 

Mr Hitchins said he had recently attended a reunion of personnel from the base he had been discharged from. 

"I walked into this sea of faces, all these old mates - people who that you'd worked with and associated with at different levels," he said. 

It was like stepping back in time. 

But at the same reunion, he learned that two of his colleagues had suicided. 

"It could have been something personal, but the fact that it seems to happen at a higher rate within the military has got to make you stop and ask questions. 

"If the commissioner will be doing that, well then that's got to be a good thing." 

If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.



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