A message from our Director
Royal Commission Chairperson Nick Kaldas recently did something unprecedented.
It’s worth considering what he did and, just as importantly, why he took that extraordinary step.
Even though the Royal Commission has not finished its inquiry, Mr Kaldas made the unprecedented decision to address the National Press Club. He was candid and critical, accusing the ADF and some Commonwealth agencies of not providing all the necessary information, and support, to the Royal Commission.
He said the ADF and the Department of Defence were moving at “a snail’s pace” in investigating and reporting on suicides, and he questioned “whether they’re just going through the motions”.
“When it comes to protecting the mental health and wellbeing of servicemen and women, the evidence this Royal Commission has uncovered to date suggests there’s been far too much talk and not enough action,” Mr Kaldas said.
Nick Kaldas said he made the decision to publicly air these criticisms - before the Royal Commission’s final report – because it is crucial for the media, the public and politicians to focus more closely on the issues being examined by the inquiry and the recommendations it will make.
Now or never
We are fortunate to live in a society where the conduct of institutions is robustly examined by a powerful inquiry that listens carefully to the voices of everyday Australians from the Defence and veterans communities.
It is crucial for the Royal Commission to widely gather information, and so I urge you to make a submission if you have been thinking about doing so. However, you must act NOW if you want to make one – because submissions have to be lodged by October the 13th.
Perfect versus punctual
As we approach the deadline, I am reminded of the observation that perfection can be the enemy of productivity.
If you are still weighing up whether to make a submission, please be assured that it does not have to be perfect – but it does have to be lodged on time.
We are pulling out all stops as we deal with a late surge in enquiries from people who have decided they will make a submission. We appreciate your patience and your understanding as we work through this large volume of submissions.
If you want to make a submission, call us on 1800 33 1800. And please make the call today so this inquiry can hear your voice and consider your views.
"I have been a veterans advocate since 1987 to the present day.
In all my time as an advocate dealing with veterans of all wars, I have not met a more compassionate advisor than [your lawyer who assisted me] …someone who encourages people and is a great listener… such maturity and professionalism."
ROLE CALL: Our SA lawyer Gabrielle Karas
What brought you to this role with DAVLS?
I previously worked closely with people with lived experience of suicide and mental health challenges. Working with DAVLS gave me a unique opportunity to amplify the voices of people in the Defence and veteran community – and to be part of efforts to improve their mental health and reduce their suffering.
What do you like about serving and ex-serving ADF people?
I admire their loyalty, resilience and dedication. The Defence and veteran community has a strong work ethic and they consistently put others first and work collaboratively as a team. I also admire their strength and their courage.
What do you enjoy about your role?
This role provides a unique opportunity to assist people who want to share their personal stories with the Royal Commission. That can be a cathartic experience for many of them. It means a lot to me to be part of that process and to play a role in this once-in-a-lifetime inquiry that will lead to positive change.
What did you do before working as a lawyer with DAVLS?
Prior to joining the team, I worked in criminal law. I worked with Aboriginal communities and assisted people in regional and remote areas. Like my work at DAVLS, that previous role was very rewarding.
What are your strategies for managing stress?
I spend time with my two dogs - a Border Collie and a German Shepherd! I also enjoy time in the garden and outdoors.
Blokes, biscuits and Victorian hearings
Speaking up for herself – and for others
Maria Barclay is a client of ours who loved her career in the Defence Force. But she also knows military service comes at a cost for many people, including her loved ones.
Maria’s father was a prisoner of war who was psychologically scarred by that experience. Her second husband was a Vietnam veteran who also dealt with significant trauma arising from his service. And Maria, as a member of the ADF herself, experienced sexual assault in the Army.
“I don’t regret that I joined the military,” says Maria. “It was an amazing career.
“There’s nothing like the pride you feel when you put on that uniform.”
Maria first put on that uniform in 1973 when she joined up shortly before her 18th birthday.
“There is no job in the world like the military and I don't regret joining,” says Maria. “But I do regret some of the things that occurred.
I didn’t have a voice
“I was sexually assaulted on more than one occasion. But I didn’t speak up at the time and I didn’t tell anyone - not even my then husband - because I just didn’t feel I had a voice. At that time, 50 years ago, you just didn't talk about it.”
While Maria’s submission to the Royal Commission mentioned her experiences in the Army, her primary aim in that submission was to highlight the treatment of others, especially older veterans.
“I was lucky enough to be with a Vietnam veteran for nearly 28 years,” says Maria. “He had been a platoon commander in Vietnam. Like many veterans, he struggled with suicidal thoughts.”
Maria’s husband died - not as a result of suicide - and the care he received in his final months has sparked a fire in Maria. She is on a quest to improve the health support for aged veterans.
Speaking up for frail veterans
“I made a submission to the Royal Commission to highlight the terrible situation that is facing many older veterans when their health declines,” says Maria.
“People who served, particularly war veterans, will often get a treatment card from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In many instances that card, such as a Gold or White card, is meant to provide lifelong access to medical care.
“But a major problem often arises when they become old and frail. At that point, DVA can't look after them because DVA are not the experts in caring for elderly people with complex health needs.
Military service not recognised
“When that happens, those veterans are instead looked after by the Health Department and its My Aged Care section. Unfortunately, their military service is not recognised by many My Aged Care providers - so those veterans don’t receive priority treatment.
"As a result, many of them, including my husband, die before they get the care and support that should have been provided to them in a more timely manner. And when they do get health support, it is sometimes at a lower standard than what was provided to them when they were being looked after by DVA. The same standard of care should apply, irrespective of who is delivering the service.
The least they deserve
“This is a systemic and tragic problem that must be urgently fixed.
“These individuals risked their lives for our nation. As a nation, we must provide better and more timely care for them when they become frail or elderly. It’s the least they deserve given the sacrifices they have made for us.”
National conference discusses mental health and legal support
Mental health is a crucial part of our work because it’s an issue that affects many of our clients.
We recently addressed the Mental Health Services Conference, the largest event of its type in Australasia.
Our Director Jasmine Stanton and lawyer Kathryn Starkey spoke about the delivery of legal support to veterans and Defence personnel who have experienced significant trauma and mental health challenges.
Across Australia, we have provided more than 4,000 legal and social support services, and assisted 1,000 registered clients.
Our service is a National Legal Aid initiative that reflects a deep commitment to delivering innovative and wholistic legal support to people with complex needs.
Outside the wire - outreach across the nation
Across Australia, we continue to support our clients and help them to share their stories with the Royal Commission.
We travel widely to inform people about that free assistance. The round-up below provides some highlights of our outreach work in various locations and it also spotlights some of our free resources.
New South Wales
We recently travelled to Wagga Wagga to attend an important ceremony (shown above) involving the Pro Patria Centre that supports veterans and their families.
The ceremony involved the signing over of the Carmelite monastery to the Pro Patria Property Trust. It was purchased for $1.5m using donations and funds raised within the Riverina community.
The centre currently offers some medical services and, after renovations, it will provide a hyperbaric chamber, additional healthcare services, a veterans’ community shed and a gym. Its new facilities will also assist the delivery of support services provided by other organisations that help veterans.
We also visited Dubbo’s drop-in centre for veterans, a centre that assist local veterans as well as those who are travelling through that town.
In the Hunter region of NSW, we were pleased to be part of its Homeless Connect Day in Newcastle, an event that connects people to support services.
Too many veterans experience homelessness.
We strive to reach veterans across Australia, including those who are homeless or in prison, to ensure the Royal Commission hears from a wide range of people about the challenges they have faced.
Our Canberra staff attended a major event marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
At this event, they honoured the service of Australians in that conflict and laid a wreath on behalf of the Defence and Veterans Legal Service.
It was a sombre event highlighting the sacrifices made by Australians in that conflict and the important stories about it that must never be forgotten.
Our staff also attended an ADF Transition event in Albury and one in Canberra that was attended by about 500 people. These transition events provide a great opportunity to chat with Defence families about the support we offer them.
When we travel to regional areas, we always make a point of visiting war memorials to honour the sacrifice of those who have served.
Our visits to those memorials, like the one shown above in Alice Springs, gives us a deeper understanding of that community’s service.
Our lawyers recently visited NT towns, including Alice Springs and Katherine, to assist veterans in those communities.
Wherever you live in Australia, we can assist you. Call us on 1800 33 1800 for free legal support.
Future hearings and dates for your diary
The Royal Commission has held public hearings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Townsville, Hobart, Darwin, Wagga Wagga, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Key dates to be aware of:
13 October 2023 – Royal Commission submissions close
20 November - Royal Commission public hearings in Sydney
17 June 2024 - final Royal Commission report due
Many of our resources are available for download from our website. We are also happy to send out printed copies to our stakeholders.
Where possible, we can also send them our promotional materials that help to spread the word about our free services.
To order our free resources (including posters, brochures, wallet cards and factsheets etc) please contact us at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
First Nations resources
The Royal Commission has produced resources to support and encourage First Nations people to share their stories with the inquiry.
These resources can be found here.
DAVLS in your community
Our lawyers work with local ex-service and veteran support organisations across the country, delivering community presentations and attending community events.
Book a presentation
If you would like DAVLS to deliver a presentation or attend an event in your community, either in person or virtually, contact Karen Mills at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
At your event, we can answer your questions in a friendly and relaxed environment. This includes questions about engaging with the Royal Commission, what is involved, and how it can benefit you and others.
Depending on your event, we can also include opportunities for confidential, one-on-one discussions.
Royal Commission hearings
You can also find us at Royal Commission hearings.
We attend all the hearings and we have an information stall at the hearing venues. These stalls help us to connect with members of the Defence and veteran community.
This webinar includes information from our staff about the support we provide and some of the options that are available to our clients.
Helping groups that can face additional barriers
We work closely with support organisations across Australia to spread the word about the specialist services we provide. Through this work, we have identified some groups (see below) that may face additional barriers when it comes to engaging with this Royal Commission.
We travel widely to inform Defence Force members and their families about the support we provide to those who are currently serving.
We attend many events and locations involving Defence families. This includes family fun days and sessions at wellbeing centres that support ADF families. At these locations and others, we highlight the important role that family members can play in shaping the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
Sex and gender diverse communities
We have engaged the help of various organisations that represent LGBTQIA+ personnel and veterans, and we provide support to help them tell their stories to the Royal Commission.
First Nations people
Through close consultation with First Nations communities, we have developed a range of resources including posters and brochures for First Nations people. We also liaise with key stakeholders and attend events focussing on Indigenous veterans and ADF members.
Veterans in prisons
We strive to ensure people in prison can access our services wherever they are in Australia. We have created resources for use in prisons. We also provide outreach services in some correctional facilities and deliver our support to inmates via phone or video.
Stories From the Frontline
Our podcast series, Stories from the Frontline, showcases first-person stories from veterans that have a connection to our service.
The episodes are powerful and short - usually about five minutes long.
Listen to them here.
For immediate help in a crisis, please contact one of the following services:
Suicide Call Back Service (a 24-hour counselling service for suicide prevention and mental health) 1300 659 467
Lifeline Australia (a 24-hour crisis support line) 13 11 14
Beyond Blue (free, immediate short-term counselling) 1300 224 636
Open Arms (a free and confidential 24/7 national counselling service for Australian veterans and their families) 1800 011 046
Defence All-hours Support Line 1800 628 036
Triple Zero 000