The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSLA) has called for the establishment of a National Office for Defence and Veteran Wellbeing headed by an Independent Commissioner, supported by a cross-organisational Advisory Group.

The proposed entity would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. RSLA says it is the vital component that has been missing from previous Government responses to reports and inquiries into the health and wellbeing of serving ADF members and veterans.

The RSL’s call follows comments from the Head of the Royal Commission, Nick Kaldas who said it was essential a body be established to see the recommendations of the Commission implemented and to keep a permanent watch on veteran wellbeing. Commissioner Kaldas likened this to something akin to the Interim Commissioner for Defence Suicide which was disbanded prior to the establishment of the Royal Commission.

The RSL believes the Commissioner and Office can best be established by an Act of Parliament, be independent of Government, appropriately resourced, transparent, and accountable to ensure it can sustainably meet the contemporary and changing needs of ADF members and veterans.

The RSL says all Australians have a role to play in addressing the findings of the Royal Commission. That is why the RSL is proposing that the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Wellbeing is supported by a cross organisational Advisory Group comprising representatives from Defence, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Coroners’ Offices, State Governments, the health system, ex-service organisations the private sector, and those with lived experience.

RSL Australia President Greg Melick said the organisation welcomed Commissioner Kaldas’ call for an appropriate body to take responsibility for implementing its recommendations. The RSL had forwarded a submission proposing this and looked forward to further consultation moving forward.

“The RSL has welcomed the willingness of the Australian Government to move at pace in response to recommendations made by the Royal Commission in its Interim Report. We are now asking for Government to be ready to respond and again act in the best interests of ADF members and veterans when the Commission’s final report is delivered later this year,” Greg Melick said.

“An implementation body is key to ensuring that the good intentions of Government, informed by the recommendations of the Royal Commission, can lead to a real improvement in the health of the men and women who serve and have served our nation.

“Every day counts because the current settings are not effective. That is why RSL asked the Australian Government to include funding provisions for the establishment of a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Wellbeing in the most recent Federal Budget.

“We cannot, and must not, forget that at its core, the Royal Commission is about addressing the heart- breaking phenomenon of suicide and suicidality among serving and ex-serving members of our Australian Defence Forces.

“The changes we are calling for require bold action from our Government to ready itself and others to implement the forthcoming recommendations of the Royal Commission and to put in place a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Wellbeing to lead that work. Australia must seize this opportunity to once and for all improve the lives of those who are serving and have served our nation. The cost of not doing so is too high,” Greg Melick said.

RSL Victoria recommends the permanent appointment of a Commission for Service and Veteran issues with appropriate IBAC type powers. An inspectorate, with the power to ensure the Royal Commission recommendations are being effectively instituted. It should also be a “Standing Committee” to hear complaints from service personnel and Veterans.

RSL Australia’s response to the Royal Commission’s call can be accessed by clicking here.