Suicide among New Zealand veterans is a ticking bomb and deaths of current serving members might just be the tip of the iceberg, New Zealand First's defence spokesman says.
An ex-servicemen himself, Ron Mark believes the New Zealand Defence Force is downplaying issues of post-traumatic stress disorder as reports reveal more Australian veterans are dying by their own hand than died in recent international conflicts.
"From what I'm hearing we're sitting on a time bomb inside our Defence Force, in particular the army," he told NZ Newswire on Sunday.
He's also concerned the Defence Force is classifying suicide attempts as self-harm, and washing its hands of veterans who have left the service.
"These people lived on the edge for most of their tour, smiling, rifle on shoulder, looking at every smiling face, handing out candy and doing everything to keep on good terms with the locals, but knowing inside there could be an IED at any second or one of those people could be the person who kills you," Mr Mark, who served back-to-back tours in the Middle East, said.
"That takes a toll and when you come home it isn't just all better."
A lot of Vietnam veterans committed suicide and their deaths were ignored, while there is no knowledge of how many veterans from the first or second World Wars did the same, he said.
"I just think we have to have a dam good hard look at what we're doing now [and] consider what it is we have been offering in terms of counselling," he said.
Mr Mark is now taking stock, talking to experts including ex-serviceman and author Dion Jensen about how to tackle the issue.
He said he will be inviting Mr Jensen to launch his book at parliament so colleagues can hear about the issue directly from those affected as a first step.
NZ Defence Force has been contacted for comment.