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Chief Operating Officer's report

Image of Mark Cormack, Chief Operating Officer.

Mark Cormack, Chief Operating Officer

As we mark 100 years of repatriation in Australia, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA or department) is refocusing its efforts to put veterans and their families first.

Through our transformation, we are adapting our operating model, changing the way we deliver services and working out better ways to communicate about what we do.

These technological and organisational reforms have begun to deliver tangible improvements to the way DVA will provide services and support in its second century. Significant work has already been done to update the department’s outdated information technology, reform legislation, improve processes and services, and better connect with veterans and their families.

I look forward to working with our Secretary, Liz Cosson AM CSC, and the DVA leadership team as we build on that work to ensure that the department is prepared for the next hundred years.

Transforming DVA

Transformation is about putting veterans and their families first, delivering the services they need where and when they need them. We aim to rebuild trust in the help and services we provide, restoring confidence that the wellbeing of veterans and their families is our true focus and that we are genuinely here to help.

Veterans can now tell us about what they need up front and start accessing services much more quickly, without needing to wait around 100 days for claims to be processed.

Since the beginning of 2017–18, DVA has consulted around 2,000 members of the veteran community about how we can make our systems better. DVA staff have provided their input, too.

We are making information about DVA’s services more easily available to veterans and their families. We are offering a call back service, and providing information in rural and regional areas through partnerships with other departments that provide government services to those communities. This means that veterans who may otherwise have missed out on help are now getting opportunities to connect.

We are making help available online so that busy people can use their mobile devices to access what they need and do not have to fill in forms or deal with complex paperwork. A telephony consolidation project, pilot activities to make it easier for veterans and their families to learn about DVA's programs, and a departmental website relaunch are among the many other initiatives underway.

Improving the claims process

During 2017–18, we saw a significant reduction in claims processing times. Until recently, making a claim was a lengthy and complicated process involving a 36-question form.

Now, through our online claims processing system MyService, most veterans and currently serving ADF members can submit a DVA claim online at any time. They need only answer a handful of questions after establishing their identity, and their claim is determined much more quickly.

In a change that will make it easier for DVA to connect with veterans, all Australian Defence Force (ADF) members who have joined the services since 2016 are now registered with DVA, and new members will be automatically registered when they join. This important development has come about through information sharing between DVA and Defence.

We have also streamlined our claims processing for 40 conditions. Under these arrangements, claims for conditions that have high historical acceptance rates or that can be accepted on the basis of known physical training activities in the ADF are processed with little or no investigation by delegates.

The ongoing implementation of our Improving Processing Systems Program has delivered a single rehabilitation and compensation processing system that will enable the future decommissioning of 18 separate legacy systems. This has improved claims processing times, as has the digitisation of records and correspondence. Moving from paper files to digital records is enabling us to provide support to veterans more quickly.

Mental health and suicide prevention

Supporting the mental health needs of our veterans continues to be a significant focus for DVA.

Through our Non-Liability Health Care (NLHC) program, free treatment for mental health conditions is available for eligible former and serving ADF members without the need to provide a formal medical diagnosis. They can apply for this support online at any time, day or night.

The expansion of NLHC eligibility was a key measure of the 2017–18 Budget. NLHC now offers treatment for all mental health conditions for people with just one day of continuous full‑time service in the ADF. Families of those eligible for NLHC now also have access to the range of counselling and support services offered through the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)*.

The 2018–19 Budget further extended NLHC eligibility to reservists who have service in domestic or international disaster relief or border protection or who have been involved in a serious service-related training accident.

The 2017–18 financial year saw the release of the Government’s responses to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee’s 2017 report The constant battle: suicide by veterans and recommendations tabled following the joint DVA – Defence review into the management of Mr Jesse Bird’s case.

In the 2017–18 Budget, an additional $31 million was allocated to support veterans’ mental health, covering five measures:

  • $16.1 million over four years to fund the veteran payment, a new payment for veterans who have mental health conditions that prevent them from working while waiting for liability claims to be processed
  • $7.1 million over four years to extend support to families of veterans
  • $2.1 million over four years to provide annual health assessments for former ADF members in the first five years after their discharge
  • $4 million over two years to pilot a case management service for transitioning and recently discharged ADF members, and veterans requiring additional support
  • $1.7 million over one year to undertake a scoping study to professionalise veterans’ advocacy.

The veteran payment took effect on 1 May 2018 and means that veterans and their families can now access an interim income support payment while awaiting a liability decision on mental health.

The measure to further support families also commenced on 1 May 2018, and includes:

  • expanded childcare arrangements for
    • veterans who have returned from warlike service since 1 July 2004 and are in receipt of incapacity payments and participating in a DVA rehabilitation program under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA)
    • the spouses or partners of veterans who were killed in recent conflicts or committed suicide after returning from warlike service
  • counselling support for the immediate family members of MRCA veterans, along with assistance to enable the family to maintain its connections to community, employment and social interactions, and assistance to manage within a budget
  • home assistance and counselling support to assist spouses and partners to adjust to life after the loss of their partner.

In September 2017, the Government announced a new centre for research into posttraumatic stress disorder. The $6 million Centenary of Anzac Centre will be operated by Phoenix Australia — Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health. The Centenary of Anzac Centre provides an opportunity for strong national collaboration — between researchers, clinicians, ex-service organisations and all agencies caring for veterans — to find new solutions and improve care.

VVCS, our nationally accredited mental health service, continued to deliver its 24-hour, seven-days-a-week mental health support service to current and former ADF personnel and their families across Australia. In addition, VVCS:

  • extended access to counselling services to current or former ADF members’ partners, dependants and immediate family members
  • developed and implemented an escalation service to enhance the management of support for individuals who have complex clinical needs or who are at risk of suicide
  • engaged additional senior mental health professionals across Australia to enhance the ability for VVCS to provide clinical case management
  • updated and simplified privacy and consent forms, with the assistance of the VVCS National Advisory Committee
  • piloted community engagement teams that included lived experience mental health peers in the northern Queensland and New South Wales – Australian Capital Territory regions
  • significantly upgraded the client management system that supports and networks the 1,300 mental health professionals working for VVCS
  • developed new satellite centres across Australia.

Transition from the ADF

In 2017–18, DVA and Defence continued to work together to better support transitioning ADF members.

The Prime Minister’s Veterans' Employment Program has maintained its momentum. The inaugural Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Awards were held in March 2018 and were a great success. The awards recognise organisations that employ or support veterans, as well as the significant contributions being made by veterans in the civilian workplace.

All eligible transitioning ADF members are now being issued with DVA White Cards, which will give them access to mental health treatment paid for by DVA through NLHC.

During 2017–18, the Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme — jointly funded by DVA and Defence — completed the first stages of its research examining the health and wellbeing of ADF personnel during service and following their transition back into civilian life. The first two reports, Mental health prevalence and Pathways to care, were released in April 2018.

Commemorations

The Sir John Monash Centre, near Villers-Bretonneux, France, was officially opened on 24 April 2018. The centre honours more than 295,000 Australian soldiers who served on the Western Front, and 46,000 who died there, in the First World War. The centre was officially opened by the then Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, and the Prime Minister of France, Édouard Philippe.

During 2017–18, DVA held international commemorative events for the centenaries of:

  • the Battle of Polygon Wood, in September 2017
  • the Battle of Beersheba, Sinai–Palestine Campaign, in October 2017
  • the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, in April 2018.

DVA was also involved in domestic commemorations of:

  • the 75th anniversaries of the Battle of Milne Bay; the Battle of El Alamein and the culmination of the North Africa Campaigns; the Battle of Kokoda and the Battle of the Beachheads; and the Battle of the Atlantic
  • the 70th anniversary of Australian peacekeeping
  • the 50th anniversary of the Battles at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral.

Looking back on the final year of the Anzac Centenary commemorative period, I would like to thank the many staff involved, past and present, for their contribution to its success.

Century of repatriation

Following the First World War, the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon William Morris Hughes, made a promise that the Commonwealth Government would look after the interests of Australia's returned soldiers.

Australia's Repatriation Commission was created on 8 April 1918, marking the beginning of the important work that DVA continues today.

Just as the Commission’s ability to fulfil its mission depended on the contribution of its staff in that first year, what we were able to achieve in 2017–18 is a reflection of the dedication and enthusiasm of the men and women who work for the Department today.

I am proud to be among them, as we strive to improve services for veterans and their families for the next century.

Mark Cormack
Deputy Secretary, Chief Operating Officer
Department of Veterans' Affairs

 

* rebranded/renamed: Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling

 

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