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Unfriendly fire: RSL boss condemned for 'offensive' attack on dead veteran's mother

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Deep divisions in the RSL over how the Morrison government should address suicide and poor mental health among Australia’s veterans have worsened after the organisation’s national president attacked the mother of a dead former soldier for her lobbying efforts on the issue.

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National RSL President Greg Melick reportedly accused Julie-Ann Finney of trying to “assuage the guilt” of losing her son by campaigning for a royal commission into veterans’ suicide.

In an email sent by Melick to another RSL member and leaked to the ABC, he said those who supported Finney’s campaign were “the ones responsible for prolonging the risk to veterans”.

But Queensland RSL President Tony Ferris condemned Melick’s reported comments as “highly offensive and insensitive”.

“We want to be very clear that RSL Queensland and our members do not support these highly offensive and insensitive comments as reported in the media, directed to a grieving mother,” Ferris said.

“She’s been campaigning tirelessly since losing her veteran son to suicide and trying to bring a positive way forward for veterans.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted pressure to call a royal commission into veterans’ suicide for months but both sides of federal parliament last week backed a motion to establish a royal commission.

In the email, Melick said the national RSL had  “lobbied very hard for an enduring body with the powers of a royal commission and the ability to follow up its recommendations but we end up the lesser option nine months down the track”.

He said the outcome exposed people pushing their own agenda “for personal benefit”.

“Nobody has yet to able to demonstrate what can be achieved by a RC that could not have been achieved by the commission (subject to some amendments, which the government was prepared to enact).”

However, Ferris said RSL Queensland welcomed the motion for a royal commission, saying there should be “urgent implementation of the recommendations of previous inquiries to enact substantive, immediate change”.

He said veterans deserved immediate government action to address the many factors which have led to high suicide rates among returned soldiers.

“Queensland is home to more veterans than any other state. We will actively canvass our members to assist the government in framing the range of issues to be considered by the Royal Commission, ensuring it has appropriate scope and powers,” he said.

Julie-Ann Finney’s son, Dave, a 20-year decorated member of the Royal Australian Navy, took his own life two years ago after struggling with post traumatic stress disorder.

In his email Melick wrote that Finney “has done immense damage to the cause to assuage her guilt over her failed relationship with her son and many families who did not want massive public exposure will now suffer significant trauma”.

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