Skip to Content

Secretary's report

Image of Liz Cosson, Secretary

Liz Cosson, Secretary

One hundred years ago, the Repatriation Commission was created to care for veterans and their families and to honour their service and sacrifice.

A century on, we are as committed to that mission as ever. We are putting veterans and their families first.

I am proud of what the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission have achieved over the past year. It therefore gives me great pleasure to present their 2017–18 annual reports.

In doing so, I must acknowledge the contribution of my predecessor, Simon Lewis PSM, and thank him for his years of committed service to DVA and to the Australian Public Service more generally. My thanks go to DVA's staff, too, for their dedication to the task of better serving veterans and their families over the past 12 months.

A key part of our efforts has been to ensure that DVA understands the unique nature of military service and the impact it can have on current and former service personnel and their families.

We continue to build on this understanding by working collaboratively with veterans, through events such as the Younger Veterans — Contemporary Needs Forum and the Female Veterans and Veterans' Families Policy Forum, to develop improved programs and processes.

We want to ensure that our nation designs the best support and services to meet the needs of current and former service personnel and their families. We need to be the best that we can be in our second century.

I am proud to say that, during the past year, we have moved on from establishing our priorities for our transformation to implementing initiatives that are making a real difference.

We are processing claims much more quickly as a result of the launch of our web-based claims system, MyService, and the digitisation of paper files.

We have also undertaken work to ensure that veterans who submit a claim relating to one of 40 conditions we know are related to service will receive a response in an average of 20 days or less, rather than the previous average time frame of 100 days.

We are connecting with veterans earlier so that we can let them know how we can help them before they need us, rather than after the fact. Through information sharing with Defence, we are now in touch with new Australian Defence Force (ADF) members from the day they join up.

This early connection with our veterans means that we will know them personally rather than viewing just their claims or transactions. It will help us to shift our focus to the wellbeing of veterans and their families — to thinking proactively about, supporting, responding to and respecting their needs.

The past year also saw an intense period of commemoration as part of the Anzac Centenary Program. This work is helping us to achieve our goal of increasing national awareness about the importance of reflecting through commemoration, respecting all who have served or been touched by the service of a loved one and remembering through education and awareness.

The 2018–19 year will be pivotal in continuing this important work. I look forward to collaborating with DVA staff and veterans and their families over the coming year to implement initiatives that will build on the achievements of 2017–18.

The year ahead

In the most recent Budget, the Australian Government provided $112 million to continue DVA's transformation to better serve veterans and their families.

As we enter the second full year of our transformation, we will:

  • further expand MyService to add claim types and client groups, making it easier for veterans to get the help they need
  • continue to make it easier for veterans to get information about DVA support and services, particularly through new face-to-face contact points and faster, more direct telephone access
  • support the implementation of new foundational ICT, including new systems for managing education schemes, income support and data and analytics
  • scope future compensation and rehabilitation service delivery, including complex case management
  • embed analytics tools into our systems to help DVA identify and offer relevant services to veterans
  • continue to digitise our records
  • continue to build our capacity to manage change and develop a change-ready workforce.

The Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service is being rebranded, as Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling, to increase awareness of its services, and of expanded eligibility to access them, among the veteran community. As Open Arms, it will strengthen its delivery of mental and social health support and roll out new and improved group programs.

We will make sure that the right governance structures are in place so that our transformation work is integrated with the Department's existing programs and processes.

As our services improve, we need to make sure veterans and their families know about how the changes affect them, from how they can benefit to how they can use our new systems and processes. We will get these messages across in innovative ways during 2018–19.

I am also committed to maintaining and building strong and productive partnerships with all our stakeholders — from ex-service organisations, community groups and service providers to our Australian Government partners, including Defence, and our state government counterparts.

Making it easier for currently serving ADF members to transition to civilian life will remain a major focus of DVA's work during 2018–19. The majority of former ADF members go on to either an active retirement or a successful civilian career after they leave the Navy, Army or Air Force, but there are always challenges along the way, given the unique nature of military service.

In some cases, injury or illness can impact greatly on the transition. It is up to DVA to make sure that veterans get the support they need, when they need it.

In 2018–19, the Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme will complete its research, providing us with a new evidence base for designing and delivering services to support veterans during transition.

The Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program will continue to raise awareness of the valuable attributes that former ADF personnel bring to roles outside the service. In the 2018–19 Budget, the Government provided $4 million for DVA to continue the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program and $4.3 million for additional services to help veterans into the civilian workforce.

Transition will be a major theme of the Invictus Games 2018, which will take place in Sydney in October. The games use the power of sport to motivate recovery and generate a wider understanding of the sacrifices made by the people who serve their country. They also recognise the significant contribution that family and friends make in supporting veterans.

As a major global event for the veteran community, the games provide a significant and relevant platform to discuss veterans' issues with national and international partners. In association with the games, DVA will deliver a symposium to explore the themes of the transition of defence personnel from service and the wellbeing of serving personnel, and forums on families and employment. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs will also host a conference on veterans' issues with international counterparts and a ministerial roundtable with state and territory colleagues during the games period.

Mental health and suicide prevention

Mental health support and research will continue to be high priorities for DVA during 2018–19. We will begin to implement a suite of initiatives announced in the 2017–18 Budget to improve the delivery of mental health support to discharging ADF members from the earliest stage of their transition, to extend eligibility for free mental health services to reservists, and to provide counselling and assistance to the families of veterans.

Over the coming year, we will also:

  • continue to follow up and implement recommendations from the Senate committee inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel
  • launch a pilot to support the prevention of suicide in the veteran and ex-ADF community in partnership with beyondblue
  • implement a trial of the use of assistance dogs for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder
  • conduct consultation forums for veterans who took mefloquine while in service
  • review our mental health and social health strategies to align with those of Defence and DVA's transformation program
  • deliver outcomes of research into homelessness in the veteran community.

Reviews of DVA

In June 2018, the Australian National Audit Office tabled its performance audit on the efficiency of service delivery to veterans by DVA. The report made six recommendations relating to the management, quality and timeliness of DVA's veterans' rehabilitation and compensation claims processes. Work to address the recommendations has begun and will continue throughout 2018–19.

The Australian Government has initiated two reviews into the delivery of services and support for veterans and their families, to be conducted in 2018–19.

The Government asked the Productivity Commission to conduct a significant and broad-ranging review into the compensation and rehabilitation system of support for veterans and their families, and to establish whether the system is 'fit for purpose' now and into the future. The inquiry will also have specific focuses on DVA's governance arrangements, administrative processes and service delivery and the use of Statements of Principles in compensation claims.

The Government allocated $1.7 million over 12 months to fund the Veterans' Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study. The study is being led by the former Chair of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, Robert Cornall AO. Mr Cornall will talk to younger veterans, female veterans, veterans' families, ex-service organisations and the broader Defence community in coming months. The latest research will be reviewed, veterans' advocacy services in other countries will be examined, and advocacy models in other areas — such as the legal services, community and disability sectors—will be looked at.

DVA will also conduct reviews in areas such as:

  • the mental health impacts of compensation claim assessment processes
  • veteran-specific online training programs for health professionals
  • training programs for DVA staff
  • DVA's use of medico-legal firms for compensation claims assessment.

These and other upcoming reviews will provide invaluable insights into how we can continue to improve and expand the services we provide.

A note to veterans and their families

As we reflect on what has been achieved over the past year and on the work that lies ahead for DVA, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the people we serve — Australia's former and serving ADF personnel, and their families.

I know that DVA has not always met your expectations. I acknowledge that sometimes we have not made the right decisions or been the best we can be.

Our greatest challenge is to rebuild the trust between us. You are the reason we are here, and the reason we will continue to strive to do better.

Thank you for your service.

Liz Cosson
Secretary, Department of Veterans' Affairs
President, Repatriation Commission
Chair, Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission

No votes yet