AMA welcomes annual mental health check for veterans

Published 28 Mar 2016

A new report has advised that former services personnel should get an annual check-up to gauge their psychological wellbeing - a move that the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has applauded.

The Mental Health of Australian Defence Force (ADF) Members and Veterans study, published by the Senate's Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, outlined various recommendations to improve services in this area.

AMA President Professor Brian Fowler welcomed the suggestions put forward in the report, adding that the annual mental health assessment was especially important.

He said that while a 2010 study into ADF mental health showed disorders are no more prevalent among forces members over a 12 month-period than the general public, the types of illnesses experienced are different.

"ADF personnel suffer more from mental health complaints such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive episodes, suicidal ideation and making a suicide plan," he explained.

"This reflects the occupational stressors to which ADF personnel are exposed, such as deployment experiences and absence from family and support networks."

According to Professor Fowler, yearly tests would ensure mental health problems could be identified and treated earlier, helping improve long-term outcomes for veterans.

Mental health among ADF members

The parliamentary report showed that 22 per cent of ex-forces personnel had experienced a mental disorder within the last 12 months. Of these, 6.8 per cent suffered more than one psychological illness simultaneously.

Serious mental health issues, such as PTSD, can be considered total and permanent disabilities (TPDs) if they prevent the individual from ever working again. Pursuing a TPD claim can result in lump sum payments via superannuation or insurance policies, with the money covering the financial losses sustained when people are forced to retire early.

Professor Fowler also highlighted the importance of introducing a universal identifier system for veterans. Former forces members would be provided with a unique number and ID card that would quickly notify officials of their military background.

"A unique or universal identifier could help improve health outcomes for these patients. It would allow longitudinal tracking, which is critical to improving the robustness of research into the health of serving and former ADF personnel," he commented.

The AMA president claimed the proposal would also better support veterans who transition between services across different departments. For example, individuals moving from ADF-funded agencies to the Department of Veterans' Affairs and other health care systems would be more easily identified. 

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