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Secretary’s year in review

In 2013–14, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) embarked on a journey of service delivery reform to ensure that it is well placed to meet the needs of current and former servicemen and women and their families.

Changes were made to Veterans’ Access Network services, to respond to changing demographics; to claims processing, which has resulted in improved times taken to process claims; and to the structure of the Department, to provide greater accountability and oversight of the reform programme. These are the first steps of a continuing reform programme, which will allow the Department to deliver high-quality and responsive services for the long term.

In common with any large change programme, there are always challenges in the initial stages; however, the work which is being progressed will position DVA to meet the needs of those we serve for many years to come.

Throughout the year, mental health remained a key focus of the Department. The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council was reframed to focus on improving understanding of military service and its impact on mental health. DVA further expanded its innovative range of online mental health educational resources and self-assessment tools. A new strategic model, which aims to generate best practice research, was also introduced. I have elaborated on these and other achievements in the mental health space, in the coming pages.

During the past 12 months there was a slight reduction in the number of submissions to the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (MRCC). The Repatriation Commission, which met 20 times, assessed 124 submissions. The MRCC, which met 11 times, and the MRCC subcommittee, which met nine times, assessed 134 submissions.

I have immensely enjoyed my first full year with the Department. I have developed an understanding of the important role played by ex-service organisations and the ex-service community and the role that DVA plays in ensuring that both current and former serving members and their families receive the highest level of support and services. I look forward to facing the challenges that the coming year will bring and am confident that the Department will do its utmost to meet the needs of all we serve.

Achievements

In 2013–14, the two Commissions and the Department realised a number of significant achievements, which will benefit the veteran and defence communities. Among these were:

  • launch of the Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme, a significant programme of research into the mental health and wellbeing of contemporary service personnel and veterans, in collaboration with the Department of Defence (Defence)
  • establishment of a new Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health
  • launch of a range of mental health educational resources and self-assessment tools for veterans and mental health practitioners
  • development of a number of initiatives from the 2013–14 Strengthening Veteran Mental Health Budget measure
  • delivery of Veterans’ Health Week from 14 to 20 October 2013
  • release of the new strategic plan, DVA Towards 2020
  • expanded delivery of On Base Advisory Services
  • transition to DVA White Cards for Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 clients
  • redesign and reissue of DVA health cards
  • development of an online eligibility-checking mechanism for hearing services, in collaboration with the Department of Health
  • release of the tender for mental health services in private hospitals (increasing the emphasis on best-practice clinical outcomes for our clients)
  • receipt of the 2013 General Insurer of the Year award, for Defence Service Homes Insurance, in the Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards
  • finalisation of the service delivery framework for contemporary widow/ers and dependants
  • completion of the Community Nursing Classification Review
  • implementation of the Veterans’ Home Care Pilot Provider Portal, using co-design principles
  • implementation of DVA’s components of the aged care reforms, including the Veterans’ Supplement, the Workforce Supplement and the Tri-Agency Data Exchange
  • progression of recommendations from the Review of Military Compensation Arrangements
  • improvement in times taken to process compensation claims
  • provision of funding through the Veteran and Community Grants Program for projects that support veterans and their families to remain living independently in their own homes and to assist them to lead healthy lives
  • commencement of the Veterans Advocacy Training Review
  • implementation of the Government’s deregulation and red tape reduction agenda
  • awarding of Long Tan Bursaries to 41 students across Australia
  • undertaking of a commemorative mission to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings
  • completion of the Australian ballot for places at the Gallipoli 2015 Anzac Day commemorations
  • organisation of, or assistance provided to, Anzac Day services at Gallipoli, Villers-Bretonneux, Hellfire Pass, Isurava and Bomana War Cemetery.

In the following sections, I have elaborated on some of these achievements, as well as what they mean for current and former serving members and their families.

Mental health care

Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of members of the veteran and ex-service community continued as a priority for DVA in 2013–14, with the first year of implementation of the Veteran Mental Health Strategy – A Ten Year Framework, 2013–2023. A key objective of the strategy is to ensure quality mental health outcomes for clients. This objective framed much of DVA’s work in the mental health space during the year.

Improved understanding of mental health issues

DVA has introduced a new strategic model that aims to generate best practice research to support mental health care. It allows investment in collaborative research efforts between DVA, Defence and research institutions to respond more effectively to emerging issues.

The Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme is part of this new model and represents a significant investment by DVA and Defence of almost $5 million over four years, from 2013–14 to 2016–17. This comprehensive programme of study involves a consortium of six research institutions examining the impact of contemporary military service on the mental, physical and social health of serving and ex-serving personnel and their families.

The 2010 study Mental Health in the Australian Defence Force: 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing provided DVA and Defence with a picture of mental health and wellbeing in serving personnel. The Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme will build on the work of the 2010 study by focusing on the mental health of individuals who have transitioned out of full time Defence service between 2010 and 2014, reservists and a comparison group of currently serving members. Importantly, this research will also investigate how veterans access mental health services and the use of emerging technology.

In March 2014, the Government announced the establishment of the Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health, to be supported by DVA. The council will assist the Government in improving understanding of the unique nature of military service and its impact on mental health. The Council’s Chair is former Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Russ Crane AO CSC RAN (Ret’d), and its Deputy Chair is Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG. The Council’s 10 members bring a broad range of views and experience to the council.

Enhanced mental health resources

In 2013–14, DVA expanded its innovative range of online mental health educational resources and self-assessment tools. These resources aim to help veterans and their families to identify mental health issues early and to seek help if required.

Resources released in 2013–14 include:

  • Operation Life Online, a website to raise awareness about, and help prevent, suicide in the veteran community
  • an updated version of the free ON TRACK with The Right Mix mobile phone application, which enables users to track their alcohol consumption, the amount of money they spend on alcohol and the impact of alcohol on their wellbeing and fitness
  • a mobile-compatible version of the At Ease website
  • Evidence Compass, a website to give veterans, providers, researchers and the media access to recent research findings relevant to the veteran community.

DVA also developed e-learning resources for mental health service providers, including a Case Formulation Training Programme to assist mental health practitioners with case formulation when treating veterans with complex conditions.

In addition, DVA has developed YouTube videos for mental health service providers, which highlight the need to be mindful of the unique nature of veteran mental health issues when treating veterans, and discuss how DVA’s online resources can be used as part of a treatment plan.

Strengthening Veteran Mental Health initiatives

Significant preparation was undertaken during the financial year to support implementation of the $26.4 million Strengthening Veteran Mental Health 2013–14 Budget package. Three major initiatives, which help with the treatment of mental health conditions, will be launched from 1 July 2014.

In one of the new initiatives, existing arrangements whereby DVA will pay for expanded access to mental health treatment for eligible veterans and peacetime service personnel without the need for them to establish that their mental health condition is related to service will be expanded. Another initiative will expand access to the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service. The third initiative will introduce a one-off post-discharge physical and mental health assessment for former serving personnel, funded under Medicare. It will enable GPs to make an early diagnosis and arrange for any mental and physical health concerns to be treated.

Capability Review

In late 2013, as part of the Australian Government’s programme of periodic external reviews of organisational capability for each department, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) initiated a Capability Review of DVA. Whilst the final report was provided to the Secretary on 5 December 2013, the public release is the responsibility of the APSC. It is expected the report will be released in November 2014, at the same time as the State of the Service findings.

DVA Towards 2020

The new DVA strategic plan, DVA Towards 2020, was launched in December 2013. Three clear strategic themes are embodied in DVA’s new vision statement: to be client-focused, responsive and connected.

The new strategic plan provides the direction required to ensure that the Department continues to meet the needs of veterans and their families in an ever-changing and challenging environment. The plan outlines a series of strategies that will make it easier for clients to work with the Department, by ensuring that we are responsive to all groups of clients, across all areas of our business.

The key themes cascade through all levels of our business planning and are being implemented across the Department. A new corporate plan has been developed and other planning documents will be revised over the coming months. In addition, DVA Towards 2020 provides the foundational framework for a service delivery reform programme currently underway. This will ensure a coordinated and consistent approach to delivering services into the future.

Since the release of DVA Towards 2020, DVA has consulted with a range of clients about their experiences with DVA, to gather feedback that will help shape changes to our service delivery approach.

Compensation claims

A focus on improving business practices has led to a small reduction in the times taken to process compensation claims. By improving the way we manage cases and improving our engagement with clients, we have been able to improve the timeliness of claims processing. This work will continue in 2014–15 with a focus on improving a number of our processes, including better utilising online facilities.

Delivery of Veterans’ Access Network services

During March 2014 the Department held a series of community consultation processes to examine whether the provision of Veterans’ Access Network (VAN) services through standalone regional shopfronts at a number of sites in New South Wales and Victoria was the most effective way to meet the changing needs of the veteran community.

The feedback received during this process indicated that veterans want to be able to access DVA services through a variety of mechanisms, including phone and online assistance. It also demonstrated that while face-to-face service is important to DVA clients, the service does not necessarily need to be provided through a VAN shopfront.

Based on the input received during the consultation, combined with a significant decline in the numbers of clients visiting VAN shopfronts, alternative arrangements were put in place to provide veterans living in these regions with face-to-face VAN services. These changes will ensure that DVA can continue to offer services to veterans and their families for the long term.

DVA will continue to assess the new arrangements over the coming months to ensure that clients are provided with access to responsive, flexible and high-quality service delivery.

On Base Advisory Service

The Department provides early support to Australian Defence Force (ADF) transitioning members through the On Base Advisory Service (OBAS).

The service provides an opportunity for ADF members to connect early with DVA and to meet face to face with experienced DVA officers. Enquiries vary in type and complexity and contact by ADF members includes face-to-face interviews, telephone and email. The number of new ADF members making contact with DVA through OBAS increased from 2,774 in 2012–13 to 4,135 in 2013–14.

DVA’s presence on defence bases has increased since OBAS was first established in October 2011. Initially, OBAS advisers visited over 35 bases, with 52 days per month allocated for visits nationally. The service has increased to over 38 bases and more than 90 days per month scheduled for visits nationally.

The overall response from the ADF continues to be very positive and ADF members now regularly use OBAS to access information and support on services and benefits available to them through DVA.

Commemorative activities

During the year, the service and sacrifice of men and women who served Australia and its allies in wars, conflicts and peace operations continued to be acknowledged and commemorated.

The Department managed Anzac Day services at Gallipoli, Villers-Bretonneux and Isurava. We also supported the delivery of services at Hellfire Pass in Thailand, Sandakan in Malaysia and Port Moresby Bomana War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea.

In July 2013, DVA worked with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to deliver a national service at the Korean Memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. The service brought together Australian and Korean veterans, their families and communities to commemorate their shared losses and to celebrate the enduring friendships forged between the countries involved in the United Nations intervention in Korea. Also in July 2013, a mission of 15 veterans travelled to Korea to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice.

In June 2014, Australian veterans travelled to Normandy, France, to attend international commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. These Australians supported Operation Overlord, one of the most critical operations of the Second World War, on land, sea and in the air, and the subsequent European campaign. The group joined the Prime Minister, other world leaders and fellow veterans of many nations at the international services at Sword Beach and Ranville War Cemetery. The mission party commemorated the service and sacrifice of Australian servicemen and women at a special service at Ellon and the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Anzac Centenary

The Anzac Centenary commenced on 4 August 2014 and will continue until 11 November 2018. The Department is the lead agency for developing and managing the implementation of the Government’s arrangements for the Anzac Centenary Program. There are a number of events being organised at the Commonwealth, state and territory levels. The Commonwealth is working closely with state and territory governments to plan for the commemoration of significant events across the Anzac Centenary period.

A maritime archaeological assessment of the Australian First World War submarine HMAS AE2 was completed in June 2014. The wreck was assessed both externally and internally, and preservation and protection measures were installed. This work is complemented by an education programme on the role the AE2 played in the Gallipoli campaign.

Planning has begun for the Albany Convoy Commemorative Event, to take place in Albany, Western Australia, from 31 October to 2 November 2014. The event will incorporate the official opening of the National Anzac Centre, which tells the stories of the men and women who left these shores. The centre will be available as an online interpretive resource, ensuring all Australians have access to this important aspect of our military heritage.

The Anzac Centenary Public Fund was officially launched by the Prime Minister in December 2013. The fund collects donations from the business community to provide additional funding for a range of national, state and territory Anzac Centenary projects.

In March 2014, the Minister announced establishment of the Anzac Centenary Public Fund Board to replace the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board, as its work was complete. The new board will be responsible for assessing projects and making recommendations to the Government for funding from the Public Fund.

The Australian ballot for places at the Gallipoli 2015 Anzac Day commemorations was completed, with applicants receiving notification of the outcome before Anzac Day 2014. In total, 42,273 people applied for the 3,800 double passes available to Australians.

Outside of the ballot, 400 places were allocated to Australian secondary school children and their chaperones. States and territories are managing the allocation of these places. Also, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs wrote to the widows of Australian First World War veterans in March 2014, inviting them to attend the commemorations. If fit and well enough, they and their carers will travel as part of Australia’s official representative group.

The year ahead

The Department will have another busy year in 2014–15, with the official commencement of the Anzac Centenary Program and the implementation of a range of service delivery reform initiatives aimed at enhancing access to services and support provided by the Department.

The Department will continue to enhance and refine its service delivery capabilities, whilst operating within budgetary constraints. The appropriated Budget commitment to Veterans’ Affairs remains consistent. At the same time, and in line with government efficiency dividends, the Department’s operating budget will continue to reduce, necessitating a need to find more efficient ways to deliver services. DVA will strive to ensure that we have the right level of resources in the right business areas and locations in order to provide high-quality services to our clients.

We will continue our close work with Defence to ensure that current and former serving members are provided with appropriate care and support services. We will also work closely to provide support to those transitioning out of the Australian Defence Force, with improved communication and access methods supported by Defence.

We will continue to acknowledge and commemorate the service of Australians by remembering significant anniversaries. In addition to our important role in the Anzac Centenary Program, we will continue to conduct or support Anzac Day services at a number of locations, including in Turkey, France, Malaysia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea.

Acknowledgements

For the first time in many years, no senior executives retired from or left the Department in the past 12 months.

We did, however, welcome some new faces to the leadership group during the year.

We welcomed Lisa Foreman to the role of First Assistant Secretary, Rehabilitation and Support Division, in October 2013. Lisa joined DVA from the Department of Social Services. I would like to thank Neil Bayles, who acted in this role from the time of Sean Farrelly’s retirement in April 2013 until Lisa’s commencement.

In the Northern Territory, following Malcolm Uhe’s retirement in June 2013, we welcomed Leanne Cameron to the role of Deputy Commissioner. Leanne is a familiar face to many in the veteran community, as she was the Director of Client Access and Support in the Queensland office for many years.

Shane Carmody’s appointment as Deputy President of the Repatriation Commission expired in June 2014. Shane has now reverted to his Deputy Secretary position in the Department. In the light of the APSC Capability Review, the role of Chief Operating Officer has been established to support me in ensuring that the Department operates effectively while we implement our reform agenda. Shane is the initial occupant of this role. Shane’s insight and knowledge of the current and former serving communities, as well as his understanding of the Department and its functions, will help to ensure a consistent approach to organisational reform.

I welcome Lisa to the Department, and wish Lisa, Leanne and Shane all the best in their new roles.

On behalf of the Commissions and everyone in DVA I also extend a warm welcome to all our new starters, and best wishes to those who have retired or moved on to other departments during the year.

On a final note, I would like to thank all the staff in DVA for another year of hard work and dedication, in what has been a challenging environment. You are the heart and soul of this Department and routinely go above and beyond to ensure that current and former serving members and their families receive the highest levels of service and support. Thank you.

 

Simon Lewis

Secretary, Department of Veterans’ Affairs President, Repatriation Commission Chair, Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission

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