Veterans encouraged to use new legal service ahead of military suicides royal commission

Free legal advice is being offered to veterans and relatives wishing to give evidence to the highly anticipated royal commission examining Australia's spiralling rates of military suicide.

Key points:

  • The new Defence and Veterans and Legal Service is being established Australia-wide
  • It has been launched ahead of the first public hearings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on Friday
  • A free service, DAVLS is independent of the royal commission, and the departments of defence and veterans affairs

The new, government-funded, but independent service, is being officially launched ahead of the first public hearings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide which opens in Brisbane on Friday.

An initiative of National Legal Aid, the Defence and Veterans Legal Service (DAVLS) is being established by Legal Aid Commissions in each state and territory.

Jasmine Stanton says the legal service will help ADF personnel and veterans navigate legal issues that could arise in the royal commission.(Supplied)

"Sharing information with a royal commission can be a daunting prospect, especially when that information is lived experience of suicide," says Jasmine Stanton, DAVLS's senior project officer and former defence member.

"Our service is trauma-informed, culturally safe and accessible — most importantly, it is independent and separate from the royal commission, the Department of Defence, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs."

Defence support services:

  • The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036
  • Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046
  • Soldier On is a national support services provider for Defence personnel, contemporary veterans, and their families. Contact during office hours 1300 620 380

In April, the Morrison government caved into months of political pressure, agreeing to hold the royal commission into the high rates of former and serving Australian military personnel who take their own lives.

The wide-ranging inquiry is being led by former New South Wales deputy police commissioner Nick Kaldas, who will be joined by former Queensland Supreme Court Justice James Douglas QC and psychiatrist Dr Peggy Brown.

Recent official data has revealed that more than 1,200 Australian Defence Force veterans and serving personnel have died by suicide in the past two decades, almost three times higher than the number previously reported.

Ms Stanton has told the ABC the new legal service would help reassure some potential witnesses that giving evidence to the royal commission would not lead to negative consequences, such as defamation or retribution.

"We can also give very practical advice about how to structure a submission because, at the end of the day, people engaging with the royal commission want to make sure their submission is effective".

This week, the ABC revealed one of the royal commissioner's, Commissioner Douglas, had recently acknowledged a potential conflict of interest over his links to the national president of the RSL.

The royal commission says it welcomes members of the public to attend its first public hearings in Brisbane from next week.


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