The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was established on 8 July 2021, and is a significant opportunity to address the devastating impact of Defence and Veteran suicide in Australia.
The terms of reference for the Royal Commission are: The Commissioners are appointed to be a Commission of inquiry, and required and authorised to inquire into the following matters:
RSL Victoria Supports the Royal Commission
RSL Victoria supports the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, and has, after extensive consultation with our members contributed to RSL Australia’s (RSLA) submission to the Royal Commission.
Read RSL Victoria’s contribution to the submission below. The submission identifies key areas for action including governance arrangements, legislative change, resourcing and funding, along with targeted mental health programs.
Interview with Nick Kaldas, Chair of the Royal Commission
*This interview has been provided by the Communications and Community Engagement team at the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide
Q: How will this commission be different to the many previous inquiries and investigations that have come before?
Nick: We understand Defence members, veterans and their families may question whether this Royal Commission can lead to fundamental and lasting change. The Commission has heard there have been 57 previous reviews or inquiries into the issues we will examine, resulting in more than 700 recommendations. There is no doubt there have been serious roadblocks to making effective change in this area.
But in contrast to previous inquiries, the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference provide us with powers to unearth issues not previously examined, to summons witnesses to appear before the Commission, and to require that individuals or organisations produce evidence for our consideration. This will give us greater opportunity to more comprehensively deal with the issues contributing to Defence and veteran suicide than ever before. But most importantly, we will be focussing on ensuring there is a mechanism for following up on our recommendations and findings after the Royal Commission ceases to exist. We have heard from many that this is a crucial issue following previous inquiries, and we intend to do our best to address it.
We recognise that we are asking people to share their deeply personal stories – once again – and that this will be difficult for many. We know that some may be disappointed by previous experiences. At all times, this Royal Commission will strive to seek and hear evidence in a trauma-informed way. We will do everything we can to avoid further harm.
Q: What are the specific issues the Commission is investigating?
Nick: Commissioners James Douglas, Peggy Brown and I are being asked to examine, understand and expose all systemic issues and risk factors concerning Defence and veteran deaths by suicide. Some of those potential risk factors are:
- the recruitment process;
- service history, training and deployment;
- transition out of ADF;
- access and quality of health care, wellbeing and support services;
- reporting, recording, holding and sharing of personal information.
The Commission will also be looking at:
- most importantly, Defence members' and veterans' experiences in accessing claims, entitlements, and support services from government
- the impact of culture within the ADF
- the role of non-government organisations
- protective and rehabilitative factors
- support services for families and others.
Our inquiry’s Terms of Reference are broad and allow us to investigate any other matters we identify that may be of significance. This is why we are reaching out to people to ask them to come forward and tell us their story, so that we get the full picture, particularly for those with lived experiences.
Q: Why is peaking to people with lived experience important?
Nick: The Royal Commission has already heard from a number of people with lived experience of suicide who have come forward to share their story. We have been humbled by their courage in doing so. Their insights are already proving so invaluable. These deeply personal stories have given us a sombre snapshot of the breadth and depth of the problems that need attention from the Royal Commission, and will be used to inform our further investigations as we delve much deeper into the risk factors that contribute to the tragedy of Defence and veteran suicide.
Q: What's the best way for someone to tell their story to the Commission
Nick: We would like to hear from more people with a lived experience, as well as those involved in various organisations, to help inform the work of the inquiry. There are different ways they can contribute. Information about the submission process, appearing as a witness and applying for a private session is available on the Royal Commission website.
Submissions can be as brief or as detailed as you wish and will be accepted until Friday 14 October 2022. Not all of the questions in the submission form have to be answered. Every submission is recorded, reviewed and will contribute to the work of the Royal Commission. But not everyone who makes a submission will be requested to appear at a hearing.
Q: What if someone wants to remain anonymous - can they still charge their story?
Nick: A submission may be made anonymously and will still be reviewed by the Royal Commission. You don’t need to provide contact details but if you don't provide contact details, we are unable to check details in your submission with you or provide you with appropriate support services, including counselling.
Q: What is the process for a private session?
Nick: A private session is a confidential meeting with a Commissioner/s where you tell them about your personal experience. Information provided in private sessions remains confidential, even after the Royal Commission has ended. You decide what you say and what you do not want to share. People with lived experiences are eligible to apply for a private session, which can happen by telephone, video link or in person. You are able to request a private session, but are also able to choose to make a submission.
Q: If someone makes a submission, will they be called to be a witness at a Royal Commission hearing?
Nick: Not everyone who makes a submission will appear at a hearing. People will be identified by Counsel Assisting as to whether they will appear as a witness and give evidence. Individuals identified to appear as a witness at public hearings will be contacted in advance and have the opportunity to discuss this with our counselling and support staff, and solicitors assisting.
But before you make a submission, please note that the Commission cannot resolve individual disputes. It cannot fix or award compensation or make orders requiring a party to a dispute to take or not take any action.
Q: Is there legal advice available?
Nick: Nick: The Defence and Veterans Legal Service (DAVLS) is a free, national service that provides independent information and legal advice to assist ADF personnel and veterans, and their families, carers and supporters. To find out more phone: 1800 33 1800 (Monday to Friday). Legal financial assistance will be available to individuals and entities to help meet the costs of legal representation and disbursements associated with engaging with the Royal Commission.
Q: When do I need to seek leave to appear?
Nick: You do not need Leave to Appear if you provide a general submission; attend the hearing room or follow the live feed; appear before the Royal Commission to give evidence at a hearing as a witness; or attend a private session. A person or organisation may seek Leave to Appear if they wish to actively participate in the public hearing in a capacity other than as a witness, or have a legal representative participate on their behalf – for example instructing a legal representative to ask a witness questions.
For more information about Leave to Appear, download our Leave to Appear Guidance Note.
Q: It's tough for many who have lived experience to engage with the Commission's work. Is there counselling support?
Nick: We know that thinking about matters that relate to the Royal Commission or getting in contact with us can stir up strong memories and emotions. Please reach out if you need support. Counselling through the Royal Commission will be available by calling 1800 329 095 (Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: where will the Commission be holding public hearings?
Nick: Public hearings will be held in Sydney, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Townsville and Darwin, with further towns and cities to be announced in 2022. Planning is still on-going for these hearings.
Q: When will the Commission hand down its recommendations?
Nick: An interim report is due in August 2022 with the final report to be handed to the Government in June 2023.
Q: How can I keep up to date with what's happening with the Royal Commission?
Nick: All hearings are recorded and livestreamed to the Royal Commission website, and recordings of the hearings can be accessed through the Royal Commission YouTube channel. The Commission also has a Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn page.
Defence Support Services
The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide may raise issues for some members. Help is available if you are in need of support.
Open Arms is a free 24 hour, 7 day a week national counselling service for Australian veterans and their families. 1800 011 046.
Defence member and family helpline is a 24 hour, 7 day a week support line that can connect defence members and their families with their local DMFS team. 1800 624 608
Defence All-hours Support Line is a 24 hour, 7 day a week confidential telephone service for defence members and their families that can help defence members and their families to access ADF or civilian mental health services more easily. 1800 628 036
Defence and Veterans Legal Service is a free national service that provides independent information and legal advice to support Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans, as well as their families, carers and supporters, to safely share their experiences with the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. 1800 33 1800
Suicide Call Back Service is a free national wide service providing 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people affected by suicide. 1300 659 467
Lifeline Australia is a free 24-hour, 7 day a week crisis support line. 13 11 14
Beyond Blue is a free short-term counselling service. 1300 224 636
RSL Victoria support
RSL Victoria can help connect current members of the ADF and veterans with counselling and mental health support as well as direct welfare, advocacy and wellbeing services.