Kaldas said he was stunned that a new mental health and wellbeing branch within Defence was only commissioned two years after the establishment of the royal commission and would not be fully resourced and operational until 2025.
“Defence’s approach to investigating and reporting on suicides has progressed at a snail’s pace, and we are yet to find sufficient evidence of urgency in responding to these complex issues holistically even with this royal commission on foot,” he said.
“All of this raises serious questions as to whether Defence is committed to making change in the best interests of its members or whether they’re just going through the motions.”
“We’ve heard many stories of veterans and their families being driven to the brink – and in some tragic cases, beyond – while waiting years for their claims to be even looked at.”
He said that an “enduring, powerful, independent” oversight body was needed to ensure that government agencies and the Defence Force prioritised the long-term reforms necessary to tackle the veterans’ suicide crisis.
Kaldas said the Defence Force had failed to take a damning 2016 report into abuse, bullying and harassment as a wake-up call to lift its game.
“It’s troubling to imagine that such behaviour persists in any modern-day workplace,” he said.
“What is even more alarming is that an employer could neglect or mishandle a complaint of misconduct or target the complainant, leaving them re-traumatised.
“Yet that is exactly what we are hearing.”
Kaldas said that he and his fellow commissioners “did not expect to be stymied and stonewalled along the way” as they did their work, yet obtaining crucial information from government bodies in a timely manner had proven frustratingly difficult.
“We have faced significant delays in the provision of vital data and information sought from Defence,” he said.
If you are a current or former ADF member, or a relative, and need counselling or support, contact the Defence All-Hours Support Line on 1800 628 036 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.
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