I would like to talk briefly to the Defence, Veterans' and Families' Acute Support Package Bill 2022. We've lost more of our Defence forces and veterans to suicide than we've lost in the past 20 years in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not a battle of armies on a field; it is a silent battle amongst us at home, and we are losing it. Each death sweeps through families and communities, leaving profound grief and sadness. After endless reports—50 at the current count—and 750 recommendations later, how is it possible we could fail so many who were brave enough to defend our country? Vulnerable Defence personnel and veterans are experiencing isolation, poor mental health, despair, bullying, relationship breakdown and unemployment. One soldier said:
When I did return to civilian life, my mental health eventually caught up to me and it was extremely overwhelming at times. I think it's because I had been so hyper vigilant for such a long time, the emotions inside of me built up and pushed me over the edge.
This bill is important to the 1,800 veterans and their families who live in Mackellar, my electorate. With the passage of this bill, vulnerable veterans and their families will have more flexible support, including extending that support to a wider and more eligible group. We must understand that, to support veterans, we have to support their families as well, with services including things such as household help, relationship skills training, mental health first aid and financial literacy. This bill will also provide support whether or not a veteran has rendered warlike service. I am shocked that it is only with this bill that we are now acknowledging that not just Australian Defence forces who have fought on the front lines but also those who are in supporting roles will get the support that they need.
It's no wonder that our veterans struggle if, after being educated on the importance of discipline, duty and dedication to their unit and their country, they find that when they enter or re-enter civilian life, that loyalty doesn't go both ways, that they weren't actually enough of the team to be eligible for DVA support.
As a doctor, I understand that acute problems need to be addressed as quickly as possible or they become chronic. When a problem becomes chronic, it is harder to fix and takes more time, more money and more effort. The greatest challenge of this extended support act is that, right now, claims are taking up to 30 months to process - up to 30 months. The backlog of claims is massive: 43,0000 people with around 60,000 claims are waiting to be processed. Clearing the backlog is the number 1 recommendation that will save lives immediately. I commend the Member for Burt for bringing this bill forward.
You can watch the speech here.