The Australian Defence Force’s religious-based wellbeing and pastoral care model is failing service personnel and negatively affecting mental health outcomes, the Rationalist Society of Australia has told a royal commission.
In a submission to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, the RSA argued that the chaplaincy service provided in the ADF puts up barriers to many personnel – the majority of whom are not religious – seeking and accessing the care they need at the time they need it.
The submission (read it here) noted that Navy had taken initial steps to reform its chaplaincy branch through the introduction of secular wellbeing officers, but that Army and Air Force had failed to act.
“The Rationalist Society of Australia believes the current Australian Defence Force wellbeing and pastoral care model is failing Australia’s service personnel and having a negative effect on mental health outcomes among personnel while in service and after they have left,” the submission says.
“[The religious-based model wellbeing and pastoral care] hampers the ability of the ADF to provide early identification of at-risk members, intervention, support and referral.
“It is evident that the current model is no longer fit for purpose. Instead, it increases the risk of adverse mental health outcomes for ADF personnel.”
The RSA understands that current and former personnel have made similar arguments in submissions to the royal commission.
RSA president Meredith Doig is now urging more Australians to make submissions to the royal commission calling for these reforms. Members of the public and organisations have until Friday 13 October, 2023, to make submissions to the royal commission.
“Our service personnel deserve access to the most professional and appropriate wellbeing support our taxpayer dollars can provide. They should not have to feel reluctant about accessing such support,” Dr Doig said.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher. I urge everyone to take the time to write to the royal commission and alert them to this problem.”
The RSA has prioritised reform of the ADF as one of the top secular reforms that should be made in the new term of parliament.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Images: Commonwealth of Australia / Department of Defence