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A key component of this research is the recorded and analysed views of a range of stakeholders including members of parliament, military personnel and bureaucrats from DVA and Defence, medical professionals, representatives of Ex-Service Organisations, veterans, and other eminent persons. To achieve this, qualitative research methodologies and data collection techniques were employed. Interviews were conducted with over 100 people, 76 of whom are acknowledged on previous pages. The objective was to distil some common elements in the debate on mental health and Defence from among the many and varied (and often contradictory) views held by experts with different professional perspectives. Additional aims of this study included the generation of concepts that could indicate useful areas for exploration rather than developing firm recommendations. Interview-based research on a small scale is intentionally designed to generate concepts. As an exploratory study, the aim has been to formulate concepts rather than verify conclusions.

Attempting to get an accurate read on personal beliefs held by members of parliament involves some unique challenges. The need to rehearse party political positions, the lack of familiarity with specific policy detail, and simple time constraints and availability all hampered this process. Initially, all 226 parliamentarians were approached with a written survey designed to elicit both quantitative and qualitative data. However, the response rate did not yield a representative data set, so this approach was abandoned. A list of 41 parliamentarians who either had previous military service themselves or had addressed the parliament on the issue of the mental health of military personnel and/or veterans was then assembled and they were sent written invitations to participate in an interview (see Appendix D). Of the 41 who were invited to participate, 16 were interviewed. These interviews generally took place in the member or senator’s parliamentary office, although a small number were conducted by phone. Other interviewees were approached directly because of their personal interest and/or professional expertise in the subject. All interviewees participated with the understanding that their comments would be confidential and only quoted or paraphrased with permission.

Ethnographic and phenomenological methodologies were employed to explore the experience of these target groups. Ethnography refers to the study of people and cultures (in this case military and veteran cultures) and the recording of knowledge and systems of meaning from within these cultural groups. It refers to the presentation of empirical data to better understand the lives of the cultural group. Features of this methodology include the collection of unconstructed (mainly verbal) primary data, and the identification of patterns from within that data.[1]

Phenomenological approaches begin with a description of lived situations and avoid generalisations. The researcher reflectively analyses these descriptions before offering synthesised accounts such as the identification of general themes about the phenomenon. Importantly, the researcher attempts to go beyond explicitly stated meaning and access implicit meanings hidden within the discourse.[2] Through the collection and analysis of empirical data from a wide range of sources, this monograph aims to reconstruct key features in the lives of a very small group of veterans, including their experiences with changing states of mental fitness, potentially including interaction with a part of the (military and veteran) mental health system. The case study approach provides the advantage of recording the lived experiences of a group of disaffected former soldiers. A qualitative methodology was chosen as it is best-placed to highlight issues faced by a group of disaffected veterans. Limitations of this approach include the need to be cautious when interpreting the results and generalising from this very small sample to a larger group. This qualitative research methodology was designed to explore the following research questions:

  • what are the unique features of the issue of mental health and the ADF? (current and ex-serving)
  • what are the prevailing attitudes and issues around mental health and Defence identified by key stakeholders?
  • what are the obstacles and opportunities in raising the tenor of debate on this issue?
  • what roles do the ADF, Defence, DVA and the federal parliament play in furthering these debates?
  • what are some areas for further consideration that require solutions?

In responding to these questions, an analysis is provided that examines the respective strategic thinking and mental health policy of DVA, as well as the ways in which this issue is addressed in the federal parliament. Analysis of the interview data also revealed some recurrent themes, a small number of which became the focus of the paper.


[1].       Jupp, V. (ed.) (2006) The SAGE dictionary of social research methods, London, England: SAGE Publications.

[2].       Finlay, L. (2009) ‘Debating phenomenological research methods’, Phenomenology & Practice, 3(1), pp. 6–25, Open University, London.