Members of the Department of Veterans Affairs will give evidence publicly for the first time during the second hearing of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
The week-long hearing, which began today in Sydney at the Pullman Hotel, Hyde Park will focus on lines of inquiry needing urgent or intermediate action ahead of the interim report due on 11 August 2022.
In his opening address, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, Peter Gray SC, said one of the key issues for the Commission was to address the large backlog of claims at the Department and Veterans Affairs.
“Adverse effects have been experienced by people approaching DVA for support,” Mr Gray said.
More than 150 notices have been issued to Defence, DVA and other various bodies to produce documents that may assist with the Commission’s work. In response, the Commission has so far received more than 320,000 pages of material to review.
Mr Gray said the Commission continued to analyse and reflect on the evidence heard during the previous hearing in Brisbane. This has led to the development of 36 proposed lines of inquiry or topics the Commissioners intend to pursue including issues around recruitment, military culture and transition from service to civilian life.
Lived experience witnesses will also be a major feature of Hearing Block 2.
Commission Chair Nick Kaldas remarked on the importance of hearing from people who have experienced suicidal ideation and family members of those who have died by suicide.
“People with lived experience are in a unique position to be able to tell us what the risk factors were for them or their family member, to articulate what issues within Defence may have contributed to their personal suffering and, importantly, to offer their own insights into how the system can change,” Commissioner Kaldas said.
“We want to hear from you. Please don’t think someone else is better qualified to speak to us. If you have an experience to share – we are listening.”
The inquiry will also hear evidence from expert witnesses about the concept of the “zero suicide” model and how coronial processes can have an impact on the identification of suicides.
The Sydney hearing will run for one week, concluding on 18 February. The Commission will hold another hearing in Sydney commencing on 7 March.