The new defence white paper released on May 3, 2013 revealed that defence personnel are at a high risk for developing Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The number of veterans has constantly been growing due to involvement in over a decade of operations in areas like East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. As Australian troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan, there might be more veterans living in Australia than at any other time other than the Vietnam War. There have been concerns over the fact that these veterans will require adequate mental care to help adjust back to life in Australia.

After the Vietnam War, an estimated 56% veterans suffered from PTSD. These alarming statistics prompted the federal government about the need of more funds for this sector this time around. This is why they have announced to spend an extra $23.5 million on providing mental health care to veterans.

Australian Greens spokesperson for Mental Health and Veterans Affairs, Senator Penny Wright, while welcoming the funding also expressed his concerns about estimating the extent of need for mental health services. He said, “The new generation of veterans returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan will face considerable challenges”. He further mentions, “Mental ill-health carries a lot of stigma for veterans and too many are still reluctant to seek the help they need”.

Major-General John Cantwel seems pleased with this announcement too. “I think we’ve got the right level of prominence in a paper such as the Defence White Paper, which stands as the highest statement of government policy in regards to Defence,” he said.

But many are not convinced that allocation a huge sum of money will alone solve this problem. Former Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie said, “I think it’s a step in the right direction in the sense that we’ve allocated some serious money to dealing with the sorts of issues that are going to crop up. But I’ll also say there’s more than just throwing money at it to solve this problem. I think that getting families really involved in this is important. They’re the people that are going to recognise there’s been a change, if there is a change. They’d be the first point of contact, I’d say, in recognising PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in any way.”

One of the highlights of these mental health reforms include extending Veterans families counselling services coverage to previously ineligible individuals as well. This would include border protection personnel, disaster zone personnel, training zone accidents, medically discharged defence personnel and submariners. This coverage would also bring partners, dependent children and the parents of these individuals under protection. Also a new system of post-discharge screening assessment carried out with the help of a GP is now going to be employed.

Senator Wright said, “So often, partners and loved ones also share the cost of military service, and research shows they are at significantly higher risk of poor mental health than the rest of the population.”

Many disorders previously not entertained like alcohol and drug misuse disorders will also fall under the eligibility criteria.

Besides this, some extra funding will be provided to improve the processing time required to address compensation claims by the veterans.

It is pleasing that the government realises the need of these veterans and their families. But as Mr. Wright said, “We want to know that this money will make a difference.”

Let us hope the right steps are carried out to take full advantage of these funds for the veterans.

photo credit: Department of Defence

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