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Royal Commission expresses frustration at delays to Defence’s mental health reforms

The Chair of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide says reforms to improve mental health outcomes for ADF members are progressing too slowly and may not be successful.

Commissioner Nick Kaldas made the remarks on the final day of the Royal Commission’s tenth public hearing block in Adelaide, which focused on postings, career management, mental health and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).

The eight-day public hearing was told that a lack of communication, changes to organisational structure, competing and shifting priorities were hindering progress on implementing reforms within the ADF and Department of Defence designed to improve members’ mental health and wellbeing.

“We’re concerned that the internal reforms being considered by Defence are taking too long – and there is no certainty that they will lead to meaningful improvements in members’ mental health and wellbeing”, Commissioner Kaldas said.

Mr Kaldas said it further demonstrates that Defence is failing to adopt a ‘people first’ culture.

“We’ve heard repeatedly from Ministers and service chiefs, particularly in light of the Defence Strategic Review, about Defence’s people being its greatest asset. One wonders then why more has not been done to address the cultural and systemic challenges our servicemen and women face at every stage of their military career.”

Commissioner Kaldas noted positive steps taken by DVA in response to the Royal Commission’s Interim Report, including in relation to harmonising complex legislation governing veterans’ compensation and clearing the backlog of unprocessed claims.

“We commend these steps; however, we know there is still much more to do. What can’t be overlooked is that we continue to hear from many veterans about their poor experiences when seeking the support and services they desperately need and deserve.”

The Royal Commission will next sit in Melbourne from 28 August, where it expects to hear evidence relating to the Inspector-General of the ADF. It will also hear from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews about Commonwealth-State cooperation on veterans’ issues.

A further hearing will be held in Sydney from 20 November 2023.