New council to advise federal government on mental health of defence veterans

The federal government has launched a new Prime Ministerial advisory council on veteran's mental health to assist the tens of thousands of Australians who have served overseas in wars and peacekeeping operations.

The new council will be chaired by former Navy chief Russ Crane while the deputy chair will be Victorian Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith.

In a speech to the National Servicemen's Association in Adelaide on Thursday, Veteran's Affairs minister Michael Ronaldson said the government was determined to head off potential mental health problems for veterans, rather than simply address issues after they had arisen.

More than 60,000 Australian men and women have served overseas in the last 20 years, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

''After Vietnam, all the responses [from government] were reactive. We are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, that's why we want to be proactive,'' Senator Ronaldson told Fairfax Media.

''The issue is not how many people may have mental health issues, the challenge is to make sure we have in place programs and policies to address the challenges.

''I am confident that this new approach will ensure the government receives the very best,  targeted advice about how we can tackle mental health now and into the future.''

The federal government spends about $166 million annually on veterans' mental health.

The advisory council is expected to report back to Senator Ronaldson by the end of the year and make recommendations, where appropriate, about what other resources or steps could be taken to ensure the mental health of Australian veterans.

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