Dave Finney lost his battle with PTS in February 2019.
Dave Finney lost his battle with PTS in February 2019.

How this officer begged for help but was left to die

An alarming "hidden epidemic" of military suicides killing ex-veterans at a rate of one a week is being swept under the carpet say grieving families and vets who are demanding a royal commission.

The Daily Telegraph joins the call by the mother of retired Royal Australian Naval officer Dave Finney - who took his life earlier this year - for a national Royal Commission into a silent wave of deaths.

Nine times as many serving, reserve and ex-serving personnel have taken their own life since 2001 - an estimated 420 - than the 46 killed in action on battlefields in the Middle East.

In fact veteran men under 30 are suiciding at double the rate of other Australian men their age, while those over 30 are 18 per cent more likely to die by suicide than average.

A broken-hearted Julie-Ann Finney says the figures are a "national disgrace" and she won't rest until the Morrison Government establishes an inquiry into what's going wrong.

"There is so much that could have been done that wasn't," she said of her son's battle to get help from defence authorities.

Mr Finney, just 38 when he died in February this year, was the "poster boy" for the Australian Navy - used in glossy promotions - but was left suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome and unable to get psychiatric help for mental issues.

Julie-Ann Finney, with a picture of her son Dave, is campaigning for an inquiry into his death and other ADF veterans. Picture: AAP Image/Brenton Edwards
Julie-Ann Finney, with a picture of her son Dave, is campaigning for an inquiry into his death and other ADF veterans. Picture: AAP Image/Brenton Edwards

During his two decades of service he encountered many confronting situations as a marine technician, including dealing with bodies and missing families and children as a result of people smuggling.

"The Navy have quite literally swept Dave's death under the carpet," she says. "The number of deaths are a national disgrace.

"He was medical discharged with PTSD, a major depressive disorder, and then in October 2018 he sent an email asking the department for a psychiatrist and they knew he needed one desperately.

"They wrote back saying there was none in his state, the ACT, but there were two in NSW he could see and they currently have a waiting list until April or May 2019. My son died on February 1.

Dave Finney working for the Navy.
Dave Finney working for the Navy.

"The Department of Veteran Affairs is for the most part so slow, adversarial - it's non-compassionate and it fights rather than looking after the veteran.

"I started looking into veteran suicides and I was appalled. We hear about the high profile deaths on Anzac Day but it's been reported to me there's been eight since Anzac Day, which is one a week. There was 49 last year.

"How many more do we need before we stop saying - it's not working. It's a national disgrace."

Following this week's police raids on the ABC, Ms Finney contrasted the effort Defence officials put into tracking down leaks and the care for troubled veterans.

She said the defence resources spent investigating media leaks were "a joke"

"We don't look after our real life heroes but we can spend money at a moment's notice doing a raid on journalists because defence has asked for it.

"But we can't have a royal commission to save our heroes? It's a hidden epidemic."

A petition she's started has already attracted 182,000 signatures and will be presented to the Prime Minister.


Dave Finney in his Navy uniform.
Dave Finney in his Navy uniform.


Tasmanian RAAF veteran Doug Steley, who served from 1974 to 1981, said a large number of veterans were now calling for action.

"The problem is huge, something needs to be done."

He said the government had a royal commission into the four deaths caused by the pink batts disaster yet this was a far greater issue.

Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said the nation had to ask why the leading cause of death from 16 to 40 years of age was suicide.

"While every preventable death diminishes us, none does more so than those men and women who have served, fought and suffered for our nation," he said.

"Any further attempt to understand why and what we might do to reduce it is to be supported, and strongly so."

A relaxed Dave Finney with a Navy colleague.
A relaxed Dave Finney with a Navy colleague.

NSW RSL chief James Brown said he had been very concerned by the issue of suicides among veterans and saw the Prime Minister in November last year to discuss the issue. Later this year he will be training 10,000 RSL officers to help provide support.

Incoming senator Jacqui Lambie, a former Army soldier, has also campaigned for a Royal Commission.

"Right now, the DVA is unfit for the 21st century soldier," she said. "It's that simple."

Vietnam veteran Clarence Ormsby said the government had "failed taxpayers" with various announcements that had not worked.

"In March 2017 Dan Tehan got on national television saying he has allocated $350 million for veterans suicide prevention," Mr Ormsby said. "In July 2017 I rang Veterans Affairs asking for a $5000 grant but was told sorry, that $350 million had been spent.

"I used my war disability pension to finance our suicide memorial project."