As of 31 December 2019, there were 59,000 permanent Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and 38,700 in the reserves. While the number of permanent and reserve ADF members is known, the exact number and characteristics of ex-serving ADF members in Australia is unknown and veterans are not readily identifiable in many general population health and welfare data sets.

As of 30 June 2018, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) estimated that there were around 641,000 living Australian veterans who had ever served in the ADF, either full time or in the reserves (DVA 2018). As of 31 December 2019, 205,680 members received a pension or allowance from DVA, or were eligible for treatment or pharmaceuticals paid for by DVA (DVA 2020). However, little is known about the ex-serving members who do not interact with DVA.

In 2014, DVA and AIHW established a partnership to address this knowledge gap and to build a comprehensive profile of the health and welfare of Australia’s veteran population. As part of this partnership, AIHW has worked with the Department of Defence to link information from Department of Defence personnel systems to a variety of health and welfare data sources. An aim has been to better understand the characteristics of all veterans including cause of death, health and pharmaceutical usage and use of homelessness services.

The first stage of this work linked information from the Defence Personnel Management Key Solution (PMKeyS) which started on 1 January 2001, to enable understanding of the cohort of ex-serving members who had served at least one day since 1 January 2001. See Veterans reports.

Since that time, DVA and AIHW have explored how to establish a larger cohort which would be more representative of the whole veteran population. The Department of Defence investigated obtaining data from a range of historical personnel systems used prior to 2001 to develop a list of all members who had served at least one day since 1 January 1985. The AIHW and the Department of Defence conducted a number of stages of validation of this list to ensure that it was complete and did not contain duplicates. More information about this process is contained in the Technical notes.

What is included in this report?

This report provides demographic and service-related characteristics of all ADF members who have served at least one day since 1 January 1985 with information current as of 31 December 2019. In this report, the term ‘ADF members’ collectively refers to the three categories of ‘currently serving permanent’, ‘active and inactive reserves’ and ‘ex-serving’ members (Box 1). These three ADF service status groups will be referred to as; permanent, reserve and ex-serving for the remainder of this report. In previous reports, permanent ADF members were referred to as serving—there has however been no methodological change and the term is comparable to previous reports.

Box 1: Who is included in this report?

  • Permanent: ADF members currently serving in a regular capacity in the Royal Australian Navy (Navy), Australian Army (Army) or the Royal Australian Air Force (Air Force) as of 31 December 2019, and still serving in a permanent regular capacity.

  • Reserve: ADF members in the active or inactive reserve forces for the Navy, Army or the Air Force as of 31 December 2019, who are still in the reserve forces. Most members leaving full-time service transition to the inactive reserve forces (for a minimum of five years), unless prevented by medical or other grounds. The service status ‘Reserve’ includes members with a wide range of different experience and relationships to the ADF. For example, it includes both active and inactive reserves, as well as those who have only ever been reservists and those who served full time and then entered the reserves.

  • Ex-serving: ADF members who served in the Permanent or Reserve Services between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2019, but who subsequently separated.


DVA (Department of Veterans’ Affairs) 2018. Annual Reports 2017–18. Canberra: DVA.

DVA 2020. Executive Summary of DVA Beneficiaries in Receipt of Pension(s), Allowance(s) or Health Care to 31 December 2019 – Australia. Executive Summary December 2019 Aust and States.xlsx ( Accessed 18 June 2021