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Chief Operating Officer's report—The year ahead

Image of Liz Cosson, Chief Operating Officer

Liz Cosson, Chief Operating Officer (COO).

2017–18 will be a very important year for DVA. The 2017–18 Budget provided a significant investment of $350 million to support veterans, with a focus on transforming DVA's service offering and improving access to mental health support. This investment will allow DVA to begin implementing the Veteran Centric Reform (VCR) program—the most comprehensive upgrade of the Department's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) systems, processes and technology ever undertaken. I feel particularly privileged and fortunate to have returned to the Department during this time and to be in a position to help drive this large-scale transformation of DVA's services.

DVA's transformation

DVA's client demographics are changing, and our younger clients have different needs and expectations. DVA's outdated ICT systems and business processes are not suited to the needs of these younger clients and need to be replaced to provide the best possible service to veterans and their families.

The Australian Government has invested $166.6 million in the 2017–18 Budget towards the first year of the VCR program, which will support DVA's efforts to transform the way it does business.

Through VCR, DVA will reform business processes and culture, identify and implement governmentendorsed best practice service options and continue a targeted ICT redevelopment. The goal of this work is to provide:

  • „„simpler, better, digitally enhanced experiences for clients when they interact with DVA
  • „„an easy and successful process of transitioning from the ADF
  • „„early intervention and preventive health care, enabling veterans to live healthy and more productive lives
  • „„access to early treatment for physical and mental health issues, to prevent these problems becoming more acute later in life
  • „„an ICT platform that mitigates risk and improves DVA's service delivery.

This transformation gives DVA the opportunity to put veterans at the centre of everything we do, empowering veterans and their families by making it simpler to access the services they require, with multiple options to meet their changing needs over time, enabling them to achieve their best in all stages of life.

At the heart of this program is DVA's continued commitment to the veteran community, which is about relationships, not transactions. Veterans will will enjoy improved health and wellbeing outcomes under a system that focuses on getting the veteran healthy first—moving away from a claims-based rehabilitation and healthcare system.

We are working in partnership with other agencies across government—including Defence, the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, and others—to leverage their skills, experience, systems and business processes. Through these relationships, DVA is learning what works well for similar clients and how it can change to provide better, more modern services to veterans and their families.

Modernising the claims process

A key project in our transformation is the joint DVA and DHS project MyService, an online web application that allows clients who enlisted in the ADF after 30 June 2004 to submit a claim under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA) online.

MyService is a simple, intuitive and innovative digital solution that redesigns a previously complex, predominantly paper-based claim process to greatly improve the veteran's experience, allowing them to obtain the assistance they require more quickly with increased trust in the outcomes.

MyService is currently in its public beta phase. Serving and former members of the ADF and members of the broader veteran community have been, and continue to be, engaged in the co-design of the application to ensure the views of veterans are considered.

While only serving and former ADF members who enlisted after 30 June 2004 can currently use the service, DVA will open up the web application to more veterans and serving members in the near future. This includes exploring ways to use MyService for claims under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, as well as looking into the automatic acceptance of certain physical conditions based on the expected impacts of meeting the ADF's rigorous physical training requirements.

MyService represents a significant improvement in DVA's ability to engage members and veterans online, and provides an accessible, quick and technologically supported option for clients.

Support for ADF members transitioning to civilian life

The Departments of Veterans' Affairs and Defence continue to work closely together to ensure the transition from the ADF is as seamless as possible. The Government has committed to improving the transition process for all veterans, establishing a joint taskforce to examine the experience of those who leave the ADF and to identify barriers to a successful transition and options to address these. The taskforce is made up of current and former serving ADF members, and representatives from DVA, Defence and the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation.

The taskforce has completed its initial examination of the experiences of former members of the ADF and their families and is currently analysing the material and developing its findings.

Mental health and suicide prevention

Suicide prevention and support for those families who have been affected by the tragedy of suicide are very high priorities for the Australian Government. As already noted by the Secretary, the NMHC Review into the suicide and self-harm prevention services available to current and former serving ADF members and their families outlined a number of areas of focus to reduce the incidence of suicide among Australia's current and former serving personnel.

As an immediate commitment to addressing veteran suicide, the 2017–18 Budget delivers more than $58 million in additional mental health support for serving and ex-serving ADF members and their families. Included in this funding is $9.8 million to pilot two important suicide prevention initiatives, providing new approaches to supporting vulnerable veterans experiencing mental health concerns. These pilots will target two different cohorts of former ADF members: those with severe and complex mental health needs discharging from hospital, and those with chronic, but stable, mental and physical health issues.

Upcoming commemorative activities

2017–18 will also be an important year for DVA commemorative events and initiatives, and $19.6 million was provided in the 2017–18 Budget for this purpose. Overseas memorials will be a key focus for us, with work continuing on the Sir John Monash Centre in France, which will open in April 2018, as well as the refurbishment of the Hellfire Pass Museum in Thailand and work to restore the Australian War Memorial in London.

In addition to these key initiatives, 2017–18 will see the 100th anniversaries of the battles of Polygon Wood, Beersheba and Villers-Bretonneux, as well as the 75th anniversaries of the battles of Milne Bay, El Alamein and Kokoda.

Other key 2017–18 Budget measures

In addition to the measures relating to VCR, mental health and commemorations that I have already mentioned, $133.1 million has been committed to provide a Gold Card to cover the healthcare costs of the surviving participants of the British nuclear test program in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s and veterans who served as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

Additionally, $33.5 million has been provided to extend DVA's non-liability healthcare program to all current and former permanent members of the ADF for treatment of all mental health conditions. Through non-liability health care, DVA can pay for treatment of physical and mental health conditions without the need for the conditions to be accepted as related to service. This year's expansion of the program means that anyone who has served at least one day in the full-time ADF can access free treatment for any mental health condition.

Finally, $9 million has been provided for a package of initiatives to improve rehabilitation outcomes. Through these important initiatives, DVA is better placed than ever to support veterans and their families.

Improving DVA culture

Last year DVA undertook a detailed review of our internal culture—to find out what works and what does not. Overwhelmingly, this showed that DVA staff care strongly about veterans and their families, but are too process focused and risk-averse and do not communicate well internally.

From this work we have identified the cultural values that DVA needs to enhance in order to better serve our clients, and work is underway to empower our staff and leadership to achieve this cultural vision. This includes an organisational restructure to realign our working arrangements with our goals for the future.

I would like to stress my gratitude and appreciation for the work that has been done so far by our staff, and I look forward to the coming year when we can make innovative changes to the way we work, in order to provide the best possible service to veterans and their families.

Liz Cosson
Chief Operating Officer
Department of Veterans' Affairs

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