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More vets than civilians take own lives

Australia's defence veterans are taking their own lives at higher rates and being prescribed more antidepressants and opioids than the general population.

The death rate for ex-serving men between 2002 and 2017 was 18 per cent higher than other Australian men, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures released on Friday.

The rate of ex-serving women taking their own lives was two times higher than civilian women.

From 2001 to 2017, there were 419 such deaths amongst serving, ex-serving and reserve defence personnel.

Of those, 21 were women, and more than half involved ex-serving personnel.

The rates of death were particularly stark among veterans aged under 30.

The new figures have fanned long-running calls for a royal commission into veteran suicides.

Defence insiders say there's a schism between the younger and older veterans on the need for a royal commission, with the younger generation more in favour.

Veteran's Affairs Minister Darren Chester agrees work must be done to lower the suicide rate among former personnel.

"The only acceptable number for me, in terms of veteran suicide, is zero," he told ABC radio on Friday.

"The only acceptable number to the Australian community is zero and we've got to keep working towards that."

But he said a royal commission was one of a number of options being investigated.

"The prime minister has made it very clear that all options are on the table when it comes to the different mechanisms required by government to investigate these matters," Mr Chester said.

The research also found veterans were more likely to be prescribed antidepressants and opioids than civilians.

Data showed 20 per cent of veterans were dispensed antidepressants, compared to 15 per cent of Australians.

Likewise, 17 per cent of veterans have dispensed opioids, compared to 15 per cent of the general population.

The institute said veterans who were women, younger and less experienced were more likely to use homelessness services.

But it also found the rate of homelessness amongst veterans from 2011 to 2017 was lower than that of the general population.

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© AAP 2019