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Row in Australia Over Mental Health Support Available for Returning Soldiers

Veterans associations in Australia have called upon the federal government to provide better mental health support services for soldiers //returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Doctor Robert Marr from the Medical Association for the Prevention of War says there needs to be a specific counseling service for servicemen and women returning from overseas conflicts.

He says the lack of services and bureaucratic bungles are leading to unnecessary suicides.

"The Government's trying to deny that it's a major problem, they're only admitting to two deaths, but veterans organisations are suggesting it could be up to five soldiers who have committed suicide," he said.

"Politicians seem only too willing to stand on the docks and farewell troops to foreign wars but when soldiers come back suffering serious long-term illnesses, the politicians are nowhere to be seen."

Dr Marr says some soldiers suffering from mental health problems such as post traumatic stress are sometimes dealing with three different government agencies.

"Quite often, soldiers get lost in bureaucratic buck passing, and frustrated by the bureaucracy," he said.

"We believe that the Federal Government must set up an urgent counselling service specifically for returned soldiers from the Iraq war, so that we don't have any more unnecessary suicides."

However, Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Billson has defended the support services in place for soldiers returning from war zones.

"The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has one of the nation's best mental health programs, which is completely comprehensive and looks at not only preventative factors, but building up knowledge, clinical awareness, treatment and support programs," he said.

"But after a serving member leaves the Defence Forces, there is a continuum of care."

Mr Billson says there are plenty of support programs to help soldiers.

"Many mig ht not be aware of the emotional stresses that they're experiencing and that's why we are vigilant," he said.

"That's why we keep focussing on what we can learn, what we can do to better prepare our people, support their resilience and make sure that they're not only well after their deployment, but they're well to continue in their service or well to continue in their civilian life."

Major General Bill Crews, heading the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and the National Veterans Mental Health and Well Being Forum felt things were not that bad as veterans would claim.

"Less than 1 per cent of all those who go to the Middle East are in fact discharged for mental health reasons," he said.

"That's significantly less than our coalition partners in the Middle East and there are very comprehensive arrangements in place to support our servicemen and women in many dimensions." /L

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