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Australia launches inquiry into military veteran suicides

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Australia is to set up an independent body to investigate military veteran suicides, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

The body, led by a permanent commissioner, will review more than 400 known cases of suicide since 2001.

The commissioner, who has not yet been named, will also explore and recommend ways to boost mental health within Australia's armed forces.

It comes after years of campaigning by bereaved family members.

"Those veterans and all serving men and women protect our community and our freedoms. It is our duty to do the same for them," Mr Morrison said in a statement.

"I believe what we have developed addresses the needs of those veterans, their families and our serving men and women," he added. "We will be permanently vigilant about their welfare."

The suicide rate for ex-servicemen is nearly 20% higher than the national average, while ex-servicewomen are twice as likely to take their own lives compared with other Australian women.

David Finney, a former naval petty officer, was among those who took their own lives last year. He was medically discharged in 2017 with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Since his death, his mother Julie-Ann has called for the creation of a Royal Commission – Australia's highest form of public inquiry – into veteran suicides, and her online petition has collected nearly 300,000 signatures.

She told Australian broadcaster ABC that she was happy to hear about the new commission, but said she did not want to take all the credit.

"This was not me, this was all of Australia backing this," she said. "We need to make absolutely sure that this works for veteran wellbeing."

The new body will have similar powers to a Royal Commission, including the ability to call witnesses, compel evidence and take action against people who do not cooperate with investigations.

It is will also be backed by AU$40m ($27m) of government funding, which may be increased if necessary.

The commissioner will be expected to deliver an interim report to Australia's parliament within 12 months, and further reports every subsequent year.

A Veteran Family Advocate will also be appointed to represent the views of veterans and their families, shape policy and advocate for changes to veteran services and benefits.

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