A message from the Australian Defence Force Senior Leadership
13 March 2015
A recent television documentary that focused on ADF veterans and their stories of dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues arising from their deployment has created significant public debate. This is potentially one of the most emotive topics relating to service in the ADF that is discussed in the public domain. Over the past six years, the ADF has put an enormous amount of effort into improving our understanding of, and screening for mental health conditions, particularly PTSD, as well as in preventing and treating such conditions.
As a result of this effort, we now have some excellent programs in place to assist our people and Defence works extensively and closely with the Department of Veterans' Affairs to provide a smoother transition for those ADF members leaving military service and earlier identification of mental health issues in that transition period. We consult with the Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans' Mental Health to ensure we are doing all we can in this important area.
We do not get it right all the time and there are a number of former ADF personnel who feel that their treatment was not up to the standard they would expect.
I accept the criticism of those who feel their treatment was not as good as it could have been and I welcome the debate on this important issue that has flowed from the program. Honest, open feedback is important to understanding the needs of those among us who are dealing with mental health issues and improving the services we provide to those who seek help.
One of the things that we as a senior leadership team of the ADF have been attempting to do is to more fully understand all the elements and factors that impact on the mental health of our people. This is time consuming but important work because we need to understand the factors that impact our people before they join, while they serve and, in conjunction with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, once they leave the ADF.
This requires a more sophisticated and mature debate on mental health issues than we have previously seen. Part of this is in presenting data that challenges conventional wisdom, but it is data that is crucial to understanding the whole picture. Without it, we cannot make the right decisions at the right time to support our people to the best extent we can.
We must be able to put these issues on the table and discuss them in a rational manner. The recent vilification of the Commander of Joint Health Command, Rear Admiral Robyn Walker in social media has caused us considerable concern. The comments are not only unfair and unwarranted, they are unacceptable. Rear Admiral Walker is a strong and vocal advocate for improving and delivering effective mental health services within the ADF and she works tirelessly to remove the stigma many feel still exists around the issue of mental health within the defence community and amongst our service men and women more generally. I have full confidence in Rear Admiral Walker and she continues to have my support and that of the ADF command team.
It is important that this debate focuses on the issues and not on individuals doing their best for the wellbeing of the serving and former members of the ADF.
We recognise that some individuals may not present with or become aware of mental health concerns while they are still serving. Some individuals may not present with or develop symptoms of mental health conditions such as PTSD until after they have discharged from the ADF. For this reason we continue to work closely with DVA to improve and strengthen the transition arrangements and support veterans and their families to seek help as early as they can before or after they have left the ADF.
Mental health conditions such as PTSD can be successfully treated. Early identification, diagnosis and intervention by trained mental health professionals provide the best outcome for those dealing with mental illness. We recognise the unique demands of military service as an occupation and we owe it to our serving personnel to equip them, and their families, to better deal with the stresses of the job and to support them throughout their career, including on their return from deployment.
Defence has, does and will continue to provide the very best in care, treatment and ongoing support for its people dealing with mental illness. Since 2009, Defence has spent over $140 million on delivering mental health programs and support for its members. We have also added 91 additional positions to our mental health workforce over the past six years. Regardless of whether it is a physical or a mental health illness or injury, deployment related or not, it makes no difference to the individuals' access to quality health care in the ADF.
We continue to learn from our experience in supporting wounded, injured and ill personnel and from informed discussion about this important issue and we remain committed to providing the best possible care to everyone, whatever the injury or ailment.
MD Binskin, AC
Air Chief Marshal
Chief of the Defence Force
RJ Griggs, AO, CSC
Vice Chief of the Defence Force
TW Barrett, AO CSC
Vice Admiral, RAN
Chief of Navy
DL Morrison, AO
Chief of Army
GC Brown, AO
Chief of Air Force