BRISBANE, AAP – The recovery of traumatised defence veterans is being undermined by a pension system that was meant to support them, a royal commission has been told.

At times the individuals are cast as “broken”, putting them at higher risk of self harm, an expert explained to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

Psychiatrist and PTSD specialist, Andrew Khoo, said veterans often became “quite obsessed” with maximising their pension payments under the Department of Veteran Affairs’ criteria for a total and permanent impairment pension.

But the department’s insistence they meet the criteria only reinforced their sense of being “on the scrap heap”.

“The problem with the term is that it tells people they are broken, that they are on the scrap heap and they can’t be rehabilitated,” Dr Khoo told commissioners.

“A lot of veterans who get very unwell feel like getting some kind of TPI-like pension … from the DVA is going to be something that will make them feel good again.

“But … what we are finding is that you have more suicide attempts if you are unemployed or have TPI.”

Dr Khoo said at least one in 10 veterans suffered PTSD over their lifetime and three out of four suffered some form of psychiatric illness.

He said the severity of PTSD symptoms fluctuated as sufferers cycled in and out of relapses, much like cancer patients.

But with the right treatment it was a highly treatable disease and sufferers who rejoined the workforce had far better outcomes, the psychiatrist added.

Bernadette Boss, the former interim national commissioner for defence and veteran suicide, told the commission urgent reforms were needed to the DVA pension system.

The DVA was forcing veterans who were already unwell to navigate a “broken … spaghetti junction” system of rules which caused distressing delays, Dr Boss said.

Veteran disability entitlements also failed to assist those who wanted to continue to work, when well enough, despite the fact that remaining in the workforce was a significant “protective factor” against suicide, she noted.

In the past three years the time taken to process veteran disability claims had blown out from 100 days to 200.

The commission’s public hearing continue in Brisbane until December 10.

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