THOUSANDS of kilometres and more than 20 years separated the experience of Tamworth veterans David Howells and Alex Sadler-Purkis, but the thing they had in common was the need for support after they returned.
The pair have now shared their feelings of relief that a royal commission into Defence personnel suicide has been announced, and hope it will be crucial in preventing or treating mental health issues for future returned servicemen and women.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the commission on Tuesday, after both houses of parliament passed a motion requesting it last month.
Mr Sadler-Purkis said it meant a lot to him that the government was finally taking a serious look at the issue, admitting he struggled to readjust after returning home.
The 31-year-old served in Afghanistan, spending time as a driver in Orizgan in 2011 and an armoured vehicle commander in Kabul in 2014 before coming back to Australia, where he has dealt with the effects of post traumatic stress disorder.
Despite a number of support networks existing, he said there was still stigma within the defence community about reaching out for help, and he hoped the findings of the royal commission would help address that.
"Because it's actually quite shunned to seek treatment for mental health, or help for mental health, and I think that's why a lot of returned veterans withdraw and turn to alcohol and end up taking that final step."
Mr Howells is unsure what the outcome of the commission will be, but wants the terms of reference to cover a wide range of issues so officials can gain an understanding of how significant the problem is.
After suffering an accident while serving in Malaysia in the 1980s that ended his military career, he also had to fight personal demons and find support after arriving back in Australia.
Now the vice-president of the Tamworth RSL sub-branch, he helps other veterans and wants to see long-term solutions offered by the government.
"The terms of it need to look at every aspect and over a two year period they can get to the bottom of where the failings are with the system, what support service are needed," he said.
One thing Mr Sadler-Purkis does not want to see in the findings once they are released, is the finger being pointed at anybody who did turn to substance abuse or took their own lives.
He said the difficulties faced by returned servicemen are impossible for others to understand.
"It's up to them how and where they go into things, but I just hope they don't criticise people and chastise people for what they saw as their solution," he said.
"If people are turning to the bottle or whatever because they haven't had the support then I don't want the commission to turn around and say 'we have to ban all alcohol within the service' or anything like that."
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