Advocating for Defence families

Submission to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide

Perspective change needed: DFA

As the official national advocacy body for the families of current serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members, Defence Families of Australia (DFA) are calling for all aspects of the Defence support sector to be considered in the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. 

This includes the Commonwealth Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs, as well as the not-for-profit sector offering support to the Defence community. To understand where the support system can improve, the Defence support sector must be viewed through the lens of affected veterans and their loved ones.

For 35 years, DFA has gathered anecdotal evidence based on the lived experiences of Defence families around Australia, from all Defence services and rank levels.

Over this time, recurring themes include a need for increased, clear communication, empowerment and engagement with the ADF member’s family in the support and management of their psychological health and wellbeing. 

The overall Defence support sector is highly complex, and there have been many studies and investigations into the operations of a single department or component of the sector. In order to improve the effectiveness of the system, it must be considered as a system – in the same way that an ADF member, a veteran and their family would experience it.

There are several core challenges which restrict the access and effectiveness of engagements between ADF members, veterans or their families and support services designed for them. These include: 

  • Family engagement: There is a lack of engagement and communication to Defence families throughout a veteran’s career. There must be an increased, consistent effort from government departments to engage directly with families in jargon-free language from recruitment to post-service. 
  • Bureaucracy: Historically, a bureaucratic, process-focussed approach, rather than a veteran-centric approach, limits families being heard and supported. This is changing, but more can be done. 
  • Empathy and understanding: There can be a perceived lack of empathy, lived experience or understanding of the impact of military service on the Defence community by service providers. This is particularly true for families, and relates to the broader societal issue of the hidden domestic workload. 
  • Communication failures: A lack of clear, readily-accessible communication is a critical failing limiting ongoing improvement and effectiveness in the Defence support sector. If awareness and understanding of support available is not improved, support programs will remain underutilised. 
  • Lack of follow-up: There is a consistent theme of support services being accessible and engaged with during an initial intervention phase, before communication falls away. This increases the chance of relapse or the emergence of new issues for an ADF member, veteran or their family. Further, it drives a hesitancy to engage with support services again. 
  • Inconsistent service delivery: There can be significant differences in the quality and kind of services delivered across different geographic locations and teams. 

There is ample evidence that a stable and thriving family unit supports the performance of our military personnel and greater longevity in their career in the ADF. The benefits and costs of being a military family change the course of people’s lives. 

If the Defence support sector can optimise family support, there will be flow on effects not only for the wellbeing and prosperity of current and former serving Defence families, but also for successful reintegration to civilian life post-service.

We encourage families to consider making a submission to the Royal Commission.

Sandi Laaksonen-Sherrin
Defence Family Advocate
30 November 2021

Read DFA’s full Notice to Give submission.

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