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95 years of care and compassion –the Repatriation Commission

First of all, the Government, through the Repatriation Commission, undertake the complete and entire responsibility of restoring men to health. In the next place, they assume responsibility for securing employment for them in their old avocations in life, or, failing that, undertake to prepare them for some new occupation, and, where that is necessary, to provide them with sustenance in the meantime … The moment a man is discharged from the Australian Imperial Force he comes within the purview of the Repatriation Department, which undertakes to restore him to health, and to make the most complete provision for that purpose, no matter what the character of his wounds or illness may be. Arthur Rodgers MP, 4 June 1918

When Australia went to war in 1914, Senator Edward Davis Millen, as Defence Minister, proposed a plan to create a government-funded war pensions scheme. With no other model to follow, Senator Millen designed an entirely new system that encompassed healthcare, compensation, soldier settlement, and vocational training to help returned men find work.

Senator Edward Millen

Senator Edward Millen was appointed Australia’s first Minister for Repatriation in 1917. Despite facing fierce criticism from Parliament and the press, he became an important figure in Australia’s war effort and has been described as the most significant contributor to the development of repatriation in Australia. (DVA 306782)

In 95 years, the work of the Repatriation Commission and the Department has changed to meet demands that Senator Millen could not have imagined:

  • The service pension has been in place since 1936, offering income support five years earlier than the age pension in recognition of veterans’ special needs.
  • The Department has gone from running Repatriation General Hospitals to being one of Australia’s largest purchasers of health services.
  • Mental health care has become a priority, moving from institutionalisation to professional counselling through the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS), lifestyle programs, peer support and major research.
  • With more than half its clients aged over 80, DVA now has a major role in addressing health issues for an ageing Australian population.
  • The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme has established a 21st century framework to meet the very different needs of new generations of veterans and serving members.
  • DVA and Defence have forged an increasingly close relationship to enable a holistic approach to meeting the needs of currently serving and recently separated members.

But the fundamentals that were most important to the first Repatriation Minister remain; that is, to:

  • provide sustenance to those veterans who need assistance
  • ameliorate the impact and effects of their service
  • do our utmost to reinstate them to their place in the community, whether as a serving member or in civilian life.

Today, the Repatriation Commission is responsible under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) for granting pensions, allowances and other benefits, providing treatment and other services and generally administering the Act. Added to that is care and compensation under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.TheCommission’s role will go on for some time to come.

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