Lambie slams veteran suicide inquiry plans

·3-min read

Independent senator and former soldier Jacqui Lambie has savaged the first steps of a royal commission into veteran suicides.

Senator Lambie is scathing of the prime minister putting Veterans' Affairs Minister Darren Chester in charge of negotiations over the terms of reference.

"This is absolutely nuts," she told the ABC on Tuesday.

She said the department was a key part of the problem, and it and the minister would be put under the microscope at the inquiry.

Senator Lambie, who has spent years advocating for the inquiry, wants the minister removed from negotiations altogether.

"We don't want him at all out there having a look at those draft references whatsoever."

She also questioned how sincere Scott Morrison was in his commitment to the inquiry, given his decision on the terms of reference.

"We've got a massive trust deficit out there. Not even 24 hours in, and here it goes again."

Veterans are hopeful the royal commission can lead to better services.

Nathan Bolton, a special operations engineer who deployed twice to Afghanistan, said the inquiry provided hope for future prevention and support.

"I acknowledge my fellow veterans whose lives have been lost to suicide, those who suffer suicidal distress and PTSD and their families, friends and colleagues that have been impacted," Mr Bolton said.

"We can't help everybody today, but we can pre-empt and support all our defence force personnel of the future by giving them the training and education to serve in the ADF and then reintegrating them back into society healthy, fulfilled and backed by an incredible experience."

Loretta Somerville, a Navy veteran and spokeswoman for the group Warrior's Return, said the inquiry was needed, but it would be emotional for many people.

"I think in some ways it can be (a healing process) but I think the biggest healing process needs to come from both Department of Defence and Department of Veterans' Affairs, especially when members are discharged and when their claims are being dealt with," she said.

Ms Somerville said small organisations providing specific services for veterans should be better supported, rather than focusing solely on bigger bodies.

"We will slow it down but we would need a miracle to completely stop suicide."

Australian Association of Psychologists executive director Tegan Carrison said it was long-awaited news.

"Our members see first hand the devastating impact of military service on the mental health of our valued veterans and we hope this inquiry will in the long term help to lower the suicide rate," she told AAP.

RSL national president Greg Melick said fewer than one-in-four recommendations of previous inquiries into the issue have been implemented.

"The time for action is long passed," he said.

"While the suicide rate in the armed services is well below the national average, among veterans, it is four times the national average.

"That is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue."

He said the royal commission should ensure an interim report is delivered so support can be rolled out before the final report is released.

RSL Queensland state president Tony Ferris looked forward to sharing some of the organisation's success stories with the inquiry.

The organisation has found success with wellbeing programs, residential accommodation, an employment program, skills development, scholarships and mental and physical health programs.

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