Medical experts and veteran groups say more must be done to ensure continuity of mental health treatment for defence force personnel after they return to civilian life.
The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is inquiring into the care of those wounded on operations.
Malcolm Hopwood of Austin Health’s Psychological Trauma Recovery Service told the committee at a recent public hearing in Melbourne that retired soldiers are waiting too long for treatment.
“Many of the individuals leaving the ADF are at risk of having, or have an established mental health disorder,” he said.
“We are very concerned that there is often then a significant delay after leaving the ADF before they receive effective mental health care, usually under eligibility under the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).
Associate Professor Hopwood said it was typical to see people waiting years before they got entitlements and treatment for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Clearly early intervention is the go in mental health … and clearly that's not intervention,” he said.
“The Department of Defence has a responsibility for individuals who develop mental health disorders during their period of employment with the ADF.
“Part of exercising that is acknowledging when they leave we have some responsibility into thinking about what's going to happen to them next.”
The Legacy Australia Council also wants better collaboration between departments.
The council’s Tony Ralph has also told the inquiry that the treatment of veterans needs to include their families.
“At the moment the primary agencies focus on the veteran and it is left to organisations such as Legacy once the veteran has left the ADF to look after the families,” he said.
“What we're suggesting is that both the ADF and the DVA see it as a more holistic experience and engage with organisations such as Legacy at a very early stage so that the support Legacy can provide to families is in tune, in step with, and compatible with the support which the veteran is receiving.”
In its submission to the inquiry Legacy Council Australia said families often appear to have little awareness of the treatment and rehabilitation process.
“Families reported their role, while being critical and often covering for any treatment and rehabilitation inadequacies, was perceived by them not to be recognised by Defence and DVA," it said.
In an earlier appearance before the inquiry Rear Admiral Robyn Walker from the Defence Department said a program has now been developed which focuses on early intervention for those who may have PTSD.
In its submission to the inquiry the Department of Veterans Affairs said it has invested significant efforts into understanding the characteristics of modern veterans and their transitions back to civilian life.
The DVA now lists PTSD as one of the top three service-related health conditions affecting those who have served in East Timor, Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since 1999 ADF personnel have undertaken around 134,000 individual deployments.