Australia has recently deployed troops with diagnosed mental illnesses and on multiple tours of duty, but not because of any shortage of elite combat troops, senior officers said Wednesday.
Vice Adm. Ray Griggs, who is acting chief of defense, told a Senate committee that he did not know if any of the 200 commandos and Special Air Service troops who will soon deploy from the United Arab Emirates into Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi security forces in their fight against Islamic State militants was taking anti-psychotic medicine.
“There are some members of the ADF that deploy with antidepressants,” Griggs said, referring to the Australian Defense Force.
“Those cases are individually examined and an assessment is made about risk factors and they either deploy or they don’t deploy,” he added.
Rear Adm. Robyn Walker, who heads the defense health section, said seven personnel on “mental health-related medications” have been deployed on overseas operations between 2012 and August 2014. She did not say where.
Australia was the third largest source of special forces after the United States and Britain for more than a decade during the Afghanistan war, and numerous elite Australian troops fought in multiple tours of duty over the years.
Griggs also revealed that since Australian troops led a U.N. force to restore peace in East Timor in 1999, more than 10 percent of Australian military personnel deployed overseas had conducted six or more tours of duty.
Jacqui Lambie, a former soldier who has battled depression and a senator for the minor Palmer United Party, said the multiple tours and the mental illness within the ranks was evidence of an undermanned and overworked military.
“How damaged will these people be when they come back after years of war?” Lambie asked.
Chief of Army Lt. Gen. David Morrison would not tell the committee how many of Australia’s Special Operations Command troops had been left behind with the deployment of 200 to Iraq, citing operational secrecy. But he denied that Australia has too few elite soldiers.
Australia has a regular army of almost 30,000 troops.