Royal commission ‘must look at military culture’

Suicide rates among veterans who have not been in combat and the impacts of military culture and hierarchy must be examined in a royal commission, advocates have warned.

As the veteran community cautiously welcomes the federal government's decision to call a royal commission into veteran and defence suicides, military analysis expert Deborah Morris said it was crucial the probe not exclusively focus on soldiers returning from war or overseas deployment.

"What we do know is that many that have taken their own lives have not even been deployed," she said.

"Military suicidality is about the institution and a lot of the time about the abuse of power within those institutions."

Ms Morris, from Griffith University, said it would not be as "simple" as focusing on a mental health issue.

"It is about culture, but it's about the structural arrangements within the organisation that allow that culture to thrive," she said.

Retired Army officer Stuart McCarthy said the "miserable leadership of the generals club ... will be one of the most important things to be scrutinised" in the commission.

"Veteran suicides are a predictable outcome of toxic leadership by these generals, who consistently fail to live up to the standards they impose on their diggers," he said.

Labor's veterans affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann said the Opposition was prepared to work in a bipartisan way to get the terms of reference "right". He said it must include scrutiny of government departments and the ADF, as well as issues like housing.

"One in 10 people living on the street and homeless in this country tonight will be a veteran," he said.

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More than two years after the suicide of their son, Jan and Rick Hewitt are still waiting for answers.

Brock Hewitt, 29, went missing from his Perth home in January, 2019 and his body was found after a three-week search in Western Australia.

The young father had been battling PTSD after serving for three years in Afghanistan with a cavalry squadron. He was medically discharged from the army in 2012 and was working as an FIFO worker.

His parents have spent the past two years asking questions in an effort to understand how their son became ­another casualty of war after his return from the Middle East.


Afghan veteran Brock Hewitt went missing on January 7, 2019, and was found dead 3 weeks later. Picture: Supplied
Afghan veteran Brock Hewitt went missing on January 7, 2019, and was found dead 3 weeks later. Picture: Supplied


They are now pinning their hopes on the royal commission into veteran suicides, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday.

"Myself, Rick and the family are happy it has finally been called. It's been a long two-and-a-half years fighting and waiting for the royal commission to be called," Mrs Hewitt said.

"We hope now that we can get some answers, everything should be investigated, no stone should be left unturned."

While his family never found out what happened to Brock on his tour of Afghanistan, it changed his life - and theirs - forever. They said while Brock joined the army at the age of 19, a different person returned home and he failed to get the support he needed.

"He brought the war back with him," they said following his death in 2019.


Brock Hewitt in Afghanistan.
Brock Hewitt in Afghanistan.


Mrs Hewitt hopes the royal commission will help save another family from a similar heartache.

"We know we won't get Brock back," she said. "But fingers crossed this will stop any other family ­having to go through this. Too many have succumbed to the war within already."

Originally published as Royal commission 'must look at military culture'