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Secretary’s year in review

In 2012-13, the Repatriation Commission, the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (MRCC) and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) continued to witness significant demographic changes in the veteran and ex-service community and the consequent altering of service delivery expectations placed upon the Department.

The Department promoted services and engaged with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and ex-service community to ensure that current and former serving members are aware of the services and support that they may access. DVA also continued to invest in programs aimed at improving accessibility to services and support. The On Base Advisory Service, New Service Models and Choice and Maintainability in Veterans’ Services program were refined and enhanced.

There was an increased focus on the mental health needs of current and former ADF members, as well as the health needs of an ageing population. There was also significant focus, with the rapidly approaching Anzac Centenary, on the acknowledgement and commemoration of the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served Australia and its allies in wars, conflicts and peace operations.

In July 2013, the Department said farewell to Secretary Ian Campbell PSM, after more than 10 years of service in DVA, and 42 years in the Australian Public Service. Ian came into the role as Secretary during a time of significant demographic and cultural change for the Department. Under his leadership the Department acknowledged and acted upon the need to change its service delivery capabilities. In a time of diminishing budgets, he ensured that resources continued to allow staff to carry out their roles to a high standard. He has left the Department well placed to deal with challenges in the years ahead. I would like to thank him on behalf of staff and the veteran community for his vision and leadership.

During the past 12 months the Commissions continued to receive high numbers of submissions. The Repatriation Commission met 29 times and considered 194 submissions. During the same period, the MRCC met 22 times and the MRCC sub-committee met 13 times. The MRCC and sub-committee have considered 211 submissions. Over the past five years, the MRCC business has grown substantially, with the number of submissions presented being greater than that considered by the Repatriation Commission for the second year in a row. This is indicative of the increasing number of current and former serving members accessing services and support under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA).

I have joined a Department that undertakes a number of complex and important roles to ensure that current and former serving members of the ADF and their families receive the highest level of service and support. I am confident that the Department will continue to provide this high level of service in the coming years and will continue to adapt its programs and activities in order to meet the needs of all those we serve.

List of achievements

In 2012-13, the two Commissions and the Department realised a number of significant achievements that will benefit the veteran and defence communities. Among these were:

  • implementation of the recommendations from the Review of Military Compensation Arrangements through legislative change and administration
  • release of the Veteran Mental Health Strategy
  • establishment of a Veteran Mental Health Clinical Reference Group
  • launch of a range of mental health educational resources and self-assessment tools
  • commencement of an in-home telemonitoring trial for health monitoring
  • development of a new Strategic Research Framework
  • finalisation of numerous significant research studies
  • implementation of the household assistance package
  • completion of a review of the National Consultation Frame work and establishment of a National Consultation Framework Steering Committee
  • publication of the Department’s first iBook, Gallipoli
  • delivery of the 2012 Ministerial Summit and Senior International Forum on Veterans’ Affairs, held in Canberra, with representatives from the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia
  • delivery of a suite of training packages aimed at increasing staff understanding of military culture and mental health issues
  • refurbishment or relocation of offices in Darwin, Lismore, Newcastle and Launceston to better meet the needs of the veteran and defence community
  • supporting the government in the development of a joint position with New Zealand and Turkey on the management of attendance at Gallipoli on Anzac Day in 2015
  • undertaking commemorative missions to mark the 70th anniversaries of the Second Battle of El Alamein and Australia’s contribution to the North Africa Campaign, Sparrow Force in East Timor, the Battle of Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, the Battles of Kokoda and the Beachheads in Papua New Guinea, and the Battle of the Atlantic
  • sponsorship of a national conference in partnership with the Australian National University and the Australian War Memorial, on Prisoners of War: The Australian Experience of Captivity in the 20th Century
  • organisation of, or assistance provided to, Anzac Day services at Gallipoli, Villers-Bretonneux, Hellfire Pass, Isurava and Bomana War Cemetery.

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

Review of Military Compensation Arrangements

The Government response to the Review of Military Compensation Arrangements was announced in the 2012-13 Budget. As part of that response, the Government accepted 96 of the 108 recommendations made in the review and allocated $17.4 million over four years for the implementation of these recommendations. A further three recommendations were deferred for further consideration.

Over the past 12 months, significant work has occurred in order for the implementation of the accepted recommendations to begin from 1 July 2013. This has included work relating to, among many other actions, associated instructions, training requirements and communication needs.

Most importantly, some of the significant changes which you will see implemented in the next 12 months include:

  • an increased rate of weekly compensation for dependent children of deceased members
  • increased compensation for advice - including legal advice in addition to financial advice
  • earlier payment of compensation for permanent impairment (PI) claimants with more than one accepted condition
  • greater use of interim PI compensation
  • a new method for calculating transitional PI compensation
  • the issuing of treatment cards to clients under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRCA)
  • the extension of non-liability health care for psychiatric conditions to those with ADF peacetime service from April 1994 and to include treatment for alcohol and drug dependence.

There is also ongoing work required in order to finalise other recommendations over the next two to three years, including several that require further examination of issues and resubmission to Government.

Expansion of mental health services

The 2013-14 Budget allocated $26.4 million over four years to the expansion of mental health services. A highlight of this package is the extension of non-liability health cover, which provides access to treatment for diagnosed PTSD, other anxiety disorders and depression, without the need to lodge a compensation claim. From 1 July 2014 these arrangements will be extended to include treatment for alcohol and substance misuse disorders. These arrangements, already available to veterans with operational service, will be extended to include ex-serving personnel with eligible peacetime service since 1994.

In recognition of the important role played by the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS), eligibility for this service will be extended to new groups of current and former ADF personnel. This will ensure that the VVCS will be available to provide crucial support to this additional group of clients, with issues relating to anger, depression, relationship difficulties, transition from the military and problems with sleeping all being covered.

An online program, LifeSMART, will be developed to build veteran resilience, improve mental health literacy and reduce stigma related to seeking help for mental health conditions.

A peer-to-peer support network will be developed to support the recovery of clients with a mental health condition by providing a non-clinical support network. Individuals will be matched with a trained and supervised peer to assist in the development of coping strategies and management of day-to-day challenges associated with a mental health condition. This network will expand on the peer education and support concepts used in the Department’s successful Men’s Health Peer Education program.

A post-discharge GP health assessment will be designed to strengthen early detection and promote intervention for potential mental health related concerns prior to the development of acute and/or chronic conditions. This will be available to ADF members after discharge and will be supported by a health screening tool with a mental health component that will be developed for use by GPs.

Resources have also been allocated towards improving processing times for compensation claims, as well as enhancing pathways for clients with a mental health condition when accessing DVA arrangements. This additional funding will help mitigate the risk of the claims process exacerbating a client’s mental health condition.

Mental health strategy

A new Veteran Mental Health Strategy was launched in May 2013. The new strategy provides a 10-year framework for the provision of mental health care in the veteran and ex-service community. The strategy:

  • sets the context for the provision of mental health services in the veteran and ex-service community and for addressing mental health needs
  • identifies strategic objectives and priority actions to guide mental health policy and programs
  • ensures the best possible outcomes for individual mental health and wellbeing.

It supersedes the veteran mental health strategy of 2001, which was oriented towards a peacetime Defence Force with a primary focus on Vietnam veterans and their mental health care. The new strategy is designed to align with the ADF mental health strategy Capability through Mental Fitness, which was released in October 2011, and to reflect the significant changes that continue to occur in mental health care more broadly.

Access to mental health support and advice online

To ensure that activities and support services are available for all to access, the Department is now using a range of new and traditional technologies to reach those who require mental health support and advice. Over the past 12 months, a number of online applications have been launched to provide help to veterans and their families, as well as service providers, who require information and advice regarding mental health conditions, including PTSD.

The At Ease Mental Health Portal was redeveloped and expanded to include discrete sections to provide tailored advice, tools, information and downloadable resources to veterans, current serving members, families, carers and mental health treatment providers. The portal is the main DVA mental health website and contains links to all other DVA mental health programs and resources.

DVA is active in ensuring that health practitioners are able to respond to the mental health needs of our different clients. In this space, two online training programs were developed and released in the past 12 months - Understanding the Military Experience and vet AWARE: Assist Wisely and Refer Effectively. The first program will help providers understand Australia’s involvement in wars and peace operations and better understand the impact of military experience on the mental health of veterans and ex-service personnel. The second will help nurses to better understand the common mental health challenges faced by veterans and war widows, identify symptoms and refer appropriately.

A smartphone application aimed at helping current and former serving members identify and manage mental health issues was released in February 2013. PTSD Coach Australia is based on a successful US application and was adapted for Australian veterans by the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health. It is designed to assist sufferers of PTSD in managing their symptoms in conjunction with formal treatment. The application provides users with education about PTSD, information about self-assessment and professional care, and tools to manage the stresses of daily life with PTSD.

A second smartphone application, ON TRACK with the Right Mix, was released in March, to help people manage their alcohol consumption and learn about the health impacts of alcohol on their wellbeing and lifestyle. The application allows users to keep track of the number and types of drinks that they consume and the amount of money that it is costing. It is designed to assist a new generation of veterans in developing more responsible drinking habits.

The Department also produced and released a number of short online videos, developed to bring more awareness to mental health issues. Available through the DVA Aus channel on YouTube, each video focuses on a specific mental health condition or issue, such as PTSD, anxiety or depression. The videos feature a mixture of dramatised scenes and interviews with current and former serving members, who talk openly about their experiences with mental illness.

In-home telemonitoring for veterans trial

In June, DVA’s in-home telemonitoring for veterans trial began in Armidale, NSW. Through use of telemonitoring equipment, veterans and war widow/ers with chronic conditions and complex care needs are able to have their health monitored by health professionals from their home.

Veterans in the trial have an individual health care plan developed for them in consultation with their GP and a practice nurse coordinator. They have telemonitoring equipment installed in their home and are trained to use it. The equipment measures vital signs and securely transmits the data to the GP’s practice. All information is provided via a secure format and the safety and privacy of personal data is protected. The data is monitored by a practice nurse coordinator and the veteran’s GP, allowing for early detection of irregularities and prompt intervention. Participating veterans also have access to video consultations with their GP and practice nurse coordinator or can continue to meet with their health professional face to face.

The potential benefits to those veterans and war widow/ers participating in the trial include technology.-enhanced management of their chronic conditions, less time spent travelling to appointments, and reduced unplanned hospitalisations. Positive results have already been achieved with the first participants. The trial will continue until June 2015 with up to 300 veterans and war widow/ers being recruited.

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 again organised Anzac Day services at Gallipoli, Villers-Bretonneux and Isurava. We also supported the delivery of services at Hellfire Pass in Thailand and Bomana War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea.

In August 2012, the contribution of Australian forces in Timor during the Second World War was remembered with a ceremony at the Dare-Fatanuba memorial in Dili. The Minister led a commemorative mission for seven Australian veterans of the Timor campaign. As well as attending the service, the veterans had the opportunity to meet their modern-day counterparts stationed at Sparrow Force Headquarters in Dili.

Also in August, a mission of six veterans travelled to Papua New Guinea to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay. These men were among those who inflicted the first defeat of the Japanese on land during the Second World War.

In October, 18 Australian Second World War veterans departed for Egypt as part of a mission to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein and the North Africa campaigns. Led by the Minister, the group participated in commemorative activities, including an Australian service at the 9th Division Memorial to honour lost mates, and services at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission El Alamein War Cemetery alongside Allied counterparts.

In November, eight veterans of the Second World War Kokoda and Beachheads campaigns (1942--43) travelled to Papua New Guinea for a commemorative mission to mark the 70th anniversary of the campaigns. The group attended the Popondetta Memorial to pay tribute to their fallen comrades and joined a special ceremony to present 12 Papua New Guineans with special Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Commemorative Medallions. The medallions are a symbol of Australia’s appreciation for the civilians who helped Australian soldiers during the war.

In May, eight Australian veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic travelled to the United Kingdom to attend commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of what was the longest military campaign of the Second World War. The Battle of the Atlantic, which spanned 1939 to Victory in Europe in 1945, was pivotal to the success of the Allied campaign against Nazi Germany. Australians were involved in many facets of the battle as members of the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force and the Merchant Navies of several allied nations.

Anzac Centenary

On 21 April 2013, the Government released the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board’s report and the Government’s response, which can be accessed via the Anzac Centenary website. The Board made 25 recommendations within the report, based on the central themes of Education and Research; Commemoration; and Arts and Culture. The Government accepted all of the Board’s recommendations - 22 in full and three in principle - and provided $25 million towards the Anzac Centenary program. This was in addition to the $83.5 million over seven years allocated to the Anzac Centenary program in 2012.

Funding will support initiatives such as an Anzac Centenary travelling exhibition; an Albany Convoy commemorative event; the protection and preservation of and the education campaign for the submarine AE2; development and screening of 10 hours of documentary programming related to the Anzac Centenary by ABC television and Screen Australia; the digitisation of a sample of the First World War repatriation records of those who survived both Gallipoli and the Western Front; a history grants scheme provided to encourage academic and non-academic research into Australian involvement in the First World War; and the development of publicly accessible material from the 2000 interviews of the Australians at War film archive.

An Anzac Centenary Public Fund has also been established. This fund will hold tax-deductible donations from the corporate sector and members of the public, and will provide additional funding for significant Anzac Centenary initiatives.

In May, the Government announced the ballot arrangements for Australians planning to attend Anzac Day commemorations in Gallipoli on 25 April 2015. As was been noted by the Minister, the ballot arrangements represent a fair and transparent approach to the allocation of attendance passes within the parameters of a safe and secure capacity for the site.

Some of the places available to Australians will be reserved for special representatives, including widows of First World War veterans; direct descendants of veterans of the Gallipoli campaign; the veteran community; and secondary school students and their chaperones. The New Zealand Government is conducting its own ballot with similar arrangements.

The Department is currently working on arrangements for the ballot and is expecting to open registrations in November 2013.

The year ahead

The coming year will be another busy one for the Department as the official commencement of the Anzac Centenary Program draws ever closer and the Department works to implement the suite of policies and programs designed to enhance access to mental health services and support funded from the 2013-14 Budget.

During this time we will continue to adapt our services and programs to meet the needs of all clients by improving our service delivery capabilities and ensuring that there is increased choice for clients in regard to how they communicate with the Department. Our On Base Advisory Service, New Service Models and Choice and Maintainability in Veterans’ Services program will continue to be refined and enhanced.

Our staff will also continue our usual business practices to ensure that services are provided smoothly and that our clients continue to receive the highest standards of care and support.

We will continue to acknowledge and commemorate the service of Australians by remembering significant anniversaries, with a number to be acknowledged through overseas commemorative missions. We will also continue to conduct or support Anzac Day services at a number of locations including Turkey, France, Malaysia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea

Our relationship with Defence will continue to be strengthened, particularly in support of current serving members planning to transition out of the forces and current serving members requiring access to DVA services. This will be supported by the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Defence and DVA in February 2013. The MoU pledges closer cooperation between the two departments in order to provide improved support services for current and former ADF members. It sets out the key principles which will govern the cooperative delivery of care and support and establishes effective governance arrangements designed to ensure that the support arrangements remain effective.

Acknowledgements

In addition to the retirement of Ian Campbell, during the past 12 months the Department also farewelled a number of our long-serving senior staff members.

In August 2012, we farewelled Peta Stevenson, Assistant Secretary Income Support and Grants. Peta joined DVA in 1979 and since that time worked in a range of areas in our Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart offices. Peta was promoted to an SES Band 1 in December 2004 and served in various roles since. As the National Manager, Research, Grants and Consultation Coordination, Peta played a significant role in establishing the National Consultation Secretariat.

In April 2013, Sean Farrelly, First Assistant Secretary, Rehabilitation and Support Division, advised that he would retire. Sean had been an outstanding contributor to DVA since he joined the Department in the Melbourne office in 1983. He moved to Canberra in 1993 and held a number of significant senior executive roles over the last decade, including Chief Financial Officer, Branch Head MCRA Operations, Branch Head Rehabilitation and Compensation Policy, Branch Head Organisational Development and his final position leading the Rehabilitation and Support Division.

In June 2013, Malcolm Uhe, Deputy Commissioner Northern Territory, advised me of his intention to retire. Malcolm had been an outstanding contributor to DVA since he joined the Department as a Clerk Class 1 in the Victorian State Office in 1971. Malcolm was promoted to a Senior Officer Grade B in 1993 and was instrumental in establishing the Veterans’ Access Network throughout Victoria. He then worked in a number of senior positions across the Department, including in the role of Deputy Commissioner Northern Territory from January 2007.

I wish Ian, Peta, Sean and Malcolm the best of luck in their retirement.

During the year, we welcomed Dave Chalmers to the role of First Assistant Secretary Client and Commemorations. Dave takes over this position from Liz Cosson, who moved on to a position with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

I would also like to acknowledge a significant milestone reached by a staff member this year, being 50 years of service in the Department. Kevin Chapman, in our ACT office, has dedicated his career to the service of the veteran community and I congratulate him on reaching this milestone.

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

On a final note, I would like to pass on my sincerest thanks to all DVA staff for their hard work and dedication over the past year and for welcoming me to my new position within the Department. I look forward to the coming 12 months.

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

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